Friday, January 4, 2008

There Are Just Barely Enough Here for Me

Two years ago, I was walking through the farmer's market in Santa Barbara and sampled what they referred to as an "asian pear." It was bright green and lemon-shaped and had an uber-crisp (never grainy or mushy), white inside that was watery and subtly sweet with a hint of nutmeg. I fell rapturously in love and bought as many bags as I could carry. Right before we moved East, I noticed Trader Joe's was carrying them and consumed at least a dozen per week.

I left the West Coast with a tragic sense of loss regarding fresh olive oil and these glorious pears, as I had never seen them in other parts of the country. Ickie thoughtfully purchased some "asian pears" for me after we moved to Maine, but they were a more ubiquitous, mealy variety (large, yellow, and apple-shaped), not to be compared with my personal ambrosia.

Then one week ago, I walked into a local Hannaford's and discovered a small pile of these very pears, termed more accurately "fragrant pears." Amid fits of joy, I bought ten and ate most of them in three days, then returned with Ickie and bought a dozen, at which time I informed him that if he wanted any of those pears, he would have to buy more for himself because I barely had enough. Last night he suggested I add them to a salad, and I shuddered in horror. (These are EATING pears, not salad pears. They are elitists and don't go well with anything but themselves.)

Apparently these have been prized as a delicacy in China for years and only recently were approved to be imported to the U.S. The NYT reports the following:

"Chinese officials asked to export Fragrant pears to the United States in 1993, but American pear growers raised concerns that the imported fruit might introduce exotic plant pests and diseases."

This reveals an insidious conspiracy on the part of the pear-growers of America to rob us all of China's superior fruit. They want me to sit idly by and be content with their mealy, squashy produce, and I will not have it! Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." These are the anguished words of a man who has been forced to eat Barlett pears all his life, who was cut off from the bounty of China, and who has not yet dreamed of the glories of free trade. (In contrast to most North American and European varieties, fragrant pears stay crisp and perfect for a week or two in the fridge.)

To those of you who object to eating anything but local and organic produce, EXCELLENT. It just leaves more fragrant pears for me.


Ickenham said...

I pity the fool that gets between my wife and a fragrant pear!

hayumbone said...

How can I tell the difference when shopping, since I now know that there is one? (Obviously I've never partaken of the divine fruit that is a fragrant pear.)

I personally wish that stores here sold lychee in quantities that made purchasing them worthwhile. Randall and I adore the fruit -- also from China, so this is a related tangent, I swear -- particularly when it's been put in the freezer to the point of near-frozen.

However, if it can be found at all, it's quite expensive and sold in measly, tasteless little bunches. I can't bring myself to buy them when I know how cheap and plentiful they are in China.

Watoosa said...

Hayumbone, You should be able to just ask a knowledgeable grocer for fragrant pears. Be sure they aren't confused with asian pears (not the same). Try Trader Joe's or Whole Foods if you can't find them at a regular supermarket there.
The Indonesian variant of lychee was called "rambutan" ("hair fruit" because of the rubbery spiny hairs on the exterior). You really have to get it fresh and local--doesn't export well. But it's my favorite and is so divine. When I'd go home to Meulaboh with my best friend, we'd lie on her porch and eat rambutan until we were sticky and then nap the rest of the afternoon.
I did see some rambutan for sale in Chinatown in London and paid the exorbitant price for them, even though they were overripe. Sometimes I see them canned, which look disappointing.

hayumbone said...

Interesting. Chinese lychee aren't hairy at all. It's possible to buy them canned, but then they have about the consistency and flavor of canned Bartlett pears.

As you say, disappointing, and definitely not worth paying for.