Sweet pears to soothe the body

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By PAULINE D LOH


Five thou­sand years of culi­nary wis­dom means that the Chi­nese have a food for ev­ery sea­son and a dish to cure ev­ery ill.

For as long as we can re­mem­ber, our el­ders have pointed to a plate or bowl and ut­tered the im­mor­tal words: “This is good for you.” Some­times, chil­dren would wrin­kle their noses in dis­be­lief, es­pe­cially when it was a par­tic­u­larly bit­ter brew or a plate of liver. But in my child­hood, I do re­mem­ber a time when my chubby hands had ac­tu­ally reached out ea­gerly. It was au­tumn, and the winds had started bit­ing into bones, dry­ing

up the sum­mer hu­mid­ity with brisk ef­fi­ciency. Throats were just as dry, and that of­ten led to bouts of cough­ing to ease the itch.

That was when we’d be fed spoon­fuls of pear jam or qi­uli­gao, which is not re­ally a jam, although it is very thick, sticky and sweet.

In­stead, it is an an­cient herbal con­coc­tion of grated au­tumn pear cooked in its own syrup with dried Chi­nese ju­jubes. Just like cer­tain fruit jel­lies, the mix­ture is then strained of pulp and left to thicken in the pot. Honey is added and then the con­coc­tion is bot­tled and doled out at the first sign of a cough dur­ing the long au­tumn and win­ter.

It was not un­til I started re­search­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine that I dis­cov­ered that qi­uli­gao has been around since the Tang dy­nasty (AD 618-907) and is one of the most fa­mous eth­nic Han pre­scrip­tions. In fact,

it is so well-known that there are Bei­jing restau­rants named af­ter it, serv­ing the di­luted syrup in cop­per teapots as a main at­trac­tion, with the menu built around it.

Be­sides tast­ing good, it is, course, full of ben­e­fi­cial qual­i­ties.

Chi­nese pears are large and very juicy, with white flesh that is al­most translu­cent. The fa­mous Korean or Ja­panese nashi pears are very sim­i­lar and prob­a­bly a rel­a­tive. Chi­nese va­ri­eties grow all over the coun­try and may vary from the huge 1-kilo­gram mon­sters from Yun­nan to much smaller, del­i­cate pears shaped like a duck torso with a ro­tund body topped and tailed by nar­rower sec­tions.

Their names are equally at­trac­tive, like snow pears, snowflake pears, green pears and duck pears.

Pears are re­garded as cool­ing fruits and rep­re­sent the yin in bal­anc­ing out the yang of sum­mer. Pear juice cools the body and soothes the throat. A fa­vorite drink in Hong Kong at street-side fruit juice stands is a cup of juice made from freshly pul­ver­ized snow pears.

And it is be­cause it is such a cool­ing fruit that qi­uli­gao is made with the ad­di­tion of ju­jubes, or the fa­mil­iar dried Chi­nese dates. These deep maroon na­tive fruits are known for their blood-stim­u­lat­ing qual­i­ties, a fiery prop­erty that off­sets the chill of the au­tumn pears.

Tra­di­tional Chi­nese cures are all about achiev­ing per­fect bal­ance in the body and so, dif­fer­ent recipes for this pear syrup may also in­clude gin­ger for heat and fla­vor­ing and crushed frit­il­lary bulbs to speed up re­cu­per­a­tion from coughs.

Other mild herbs such of as maimen­dong, tiny ophio­pogon tu­bers, can also be added. These are the lit­tle creamy tu­bers of a long green herbal grass re­lated to the rain lily and are used to treat throat in­flam­ma­tions and coughs in TCM.

This pear pre­scrip­tion is be­lieved to be so ef­fec­tive that the Qing em­per­ors be­stowed their royal stamp of ap­proval on it and ap­pointed Bei­jing’s Ton­grentang Med­i­cal Hall as its of­fi­cial guardian.

Even to­day, Ton­grentang’s Au­tumn Pear Se­cret Con­coc­tion is a best­seller at the change of the sea­sons and used widely to soothe throat, bronchial and lung com­plaints.

It must be noted that a suc­cess­ful pear jam can only be com­pleted with the ad­di­tion of raw honey (sugar is never used). Sugar is a high-en­ergy food that al­lows a build-up of bac­te­ria when the body is weak, a fact rec­og­nized by the an­cients.

Qi­uli­gao is a sign of au­tumn and the im­pend­ing chills of win­ter, and noth­ing builds up a warm­ing im­mu­nity bet­ter than a hot, steam­ing cup of di­luted pear syrup.

And, for once, it’s easy to believe that it’s all re­ally good for you.


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