We are getting into fruit season. Peaches, nectarines, apples and pears are on the agenda these days. One tasty fruit that is also approaching the harvest season is not well known in this area but is a delightful fall treat. The fruit is known as Asian Pears.
This fruit could suffer an identity crisis. Are they apples or pears? They ripen on the tree and have a crisp, firm texture like apples, but their flesh is juicy and white, with a flavor and fragrance more like pears.
Because they seem like a mix of apples and pears, they are commonly known as apple pears — a reasonable conclusion. They have also been known as sand pears, Oriental or Chinese pears, sha li (Chinese for sand pear), and nashi (Japanese for pear).
Asian pears were introduced to the U.S. more than 100 years ago. They are descendents primarily of two Asian pear species: Pyrus pyyrifolia and P. ussiriensis. In China, Japan and Korea, thousands of varieties are cultivated, but only a few dozen varieties are cultivated in the U.S. Each has its own variation of flavors from smooth flavored ‘Yoinashi,’ to the spicy flavor of ‘Shin Li’ with its hint of cinnamon.
The flavor also varies according to summer warmth, which helps sweeten them, and the time of harvest. Water and soil can also affect flavor.
The term describes a large group of pear varieties having crisp, juicy flavorful fruit. The crisp texture of an Asian pear remains unchanged after picking or storage, unlike the flesh of European pears such as Bartlett or Comice. When mature, the fruits are good to eat when harvested or for several months after picking if held in cold storage.
The fruit is a pome, juicier than the apple, and varying from apple-shaped to teardrop-shaped. Among different varieties, the thin skin varies in color from light yellow and green through red
and brown. The thick flesh varies in flavor among different varieties Asian pears may be round or flat fruit with green to yellow skin; round or flat fruit with bronze-colored skin and a light bronze-russet; and pear-shaped fruit with green or russet skin.
Like apples and other kinds of pears, Asian, also known as Chinese sand pears, belong to the family Rosaceae (the rose family). The common pear is classified as Pyrus communis and the Asian pear as Pyrus pyrifolia.
The common pear is native to Europe; the Chinese sand pear is native to the Orient. Both species are extensively cultivated for their fruit in cool, humid, temperate regions throughout the world.
In our back yards, standard pear trees grow to 30 feet high with trunks 12 inches or more in diameter. The leaves are oval and simple and, unlike those of the apple, smooth and glossy. The white flowers, which are borne in umbels, have five sepals, five petals, many stamens, and a single pistil.
These pears are becoming increasingly popular and more varieties than ever are available to home gardeners. Growing them at home is advisable because they must be tree-ripened for peak flavor and sweetness. The fruits do not ripen further after they are picked, so you can determine when you want to pick your crop. Commercially grown fruits are often picked before they are ripe so that they withstand the rigors of shipping better. However, they do not develop more sweetness after they are picked.
Fruit flavor is one major consideration in choosing varieties, but also consider disease resistance and hardiness – largely determined by rootstocks. For the most part they are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9 although ‘Seuri’ and ‘Ya Li’ are hardy to zone 4.
Most Asian pears are at least somewhat self fruitful, but they will produce much larger yields if they are cross pollinated. Plant more than one variety or choose a tree with several grafted varieties if space is limited. Bartlett pears are good pollinators even though they are European type. Check with the nursery to make sure that the trees’ bloom times coincide and that the pollen is compatible for the varieties you choose.
Asian pears are less susceptible to fire blight and bacterial canker than European pears, but they can still be affected. . These diseases are less of a problem in our desert environment because they are influenced by wet, humid weather. However, the diseases can occur when we have rainy humid springs.
‘Seuri’ is resistant to fireblight but may not mature until mid-October. ‘Ya Li’ has tender green skin and mildly tart flesh. This early-blooming variety requires another early bloomer (such as ‘Seuri’) for pollination. The trees are vigorous, productive, and hardy. Fruit ripens in late September and keeps up to five months. ‘Ya Li’ is moderately susceptible to fire blight.
Asian pears are eaten fresh and canned. Unlike standard pears, all home-canned Asian Pears must be acidified before canning in a boiling water canner to make them safe from the microorganism that causes botulism.