In praise of the Asian pear
This sweet, crunchy, late-summer fruit is easy to grow – and better behaved than the flighty Western pear, says Mark Diacono
If you have seen The Man with Two Brains, a classic film from the early Eighties, you will know of the splendidly named Dr Hfuhruhurr, pronounced “Huffhurr”. For a large part of the film, the doctor (played by Steve Martin) is teased by a semi-clad gold digger (Kathleen Turner) with promises of hot times to come. But her headache – which starts on their honeymoon – seems neverending; the promised land never quite arrives. This largely mirrors my relationship with pears.
The South West’s climate isn’t ideal for pears – the rain encourages many of their diseases, and even those that make it to harvest require a period in storage to reach their peak before they can be eaten. I persevere for two reasons: I’m stubborn and refuse to be beaten by a tree; and, however small the harvests compared with apples, what there is is very special. Not much compares to a ‘Glou Morceau’ or ‘Louise Bonne of Jersey’ pear eaten at its perfect moment. But that perfect moment is very short: as we know, pears like to ripen about 10 minutes after you’ve left the house, and descend quickly into rot just as you start your journey home.
Along with growing a few more pears, in the hope that some varieties will thrive, I planted a handful of Asian pears ( Pyrus pyrifolia) four years ago, which are now coming good.
Also known as the nashi (Japanese for pear) pear, crunch apple or sand pear, Asian pears look as if Goldfinger has been out spraying the apples.
They are unquestionably Christmassy and festive, with their golden speckled skin. Most are appleshaped and are in most ways quite different to the European pear ( Pyrus communis) we are most familiar with. Where the European pear is, at its finest, buttery and surrenders to the slightest pressure, Asian pears are
Gardener-cook: Mark Diacono specialises in edible gardening at Otter Farm, Devon