Let us talk, once again, of apples. Let us talk of nothing else, in fact, unless we are talking about pears. And then, when we are resting or perhaps slightly delirious, let us speak of what happens when it seems that apples have met pears, and been careless, producing a hybrid. One of the fruits that has gone into hyperdrive in the orchard that we are lucky to border on is the Asian Pear, which is also known (for reasons that are obvious enough when you eat one but seem to have no scientific basis) as the 'apple pear'. When my children were tots and prone to malaprops, one of them garbled the name into 'angel apples,' which is how we referred to them for a while. Apples in fact are blameless for these items, which are just a hybrid of some other kinds of very fecund pears that know no limits.
For quite a while it was my belief that the only thing one of these was good for was eating out of hand, and once you got tired of that—after five or six of them a day, say—lobbing them to the sheep. Despite being very juicy, they don’t make very good juice, and when you attempt to bake them, they lie there looking sullen and nothing happens. They can’t be sauced, or frozen, and are not especially successful as a dried fruit.
Fresh Asian pears are highly prized (and highly priced) in places where they do not grow. In places where they do grow, it seems to me, they are just damn numerous and given their high propensity for bruising, difficult to relocate to the places where people are clamoring for them. Wikipedia counsels that it’s considered bad form to share them:
In China, it is considered a social faux pas to share a pear with a friend or loved one. ‘Sharing a pear’ (分梨) is a homophone of ‘separate’ (分离).
Even so, around here we try to share (a homophone of “fill the backseat of our friends’ cars with”) them whenever we find a car that is unlocked. I tried to palm one--just one, mind you--off on the toddler child of a visiting friend the other day, and a look of horror flashed across the mother's face as she instinctively turned the child a quarter turn out of reach. "We...we..." she stammered, "we live next to a tree of those."
We do our best to eat through the shinseiki variety, which comes early, has a tender, yellow skin and shares a lot of good qualities with a jicama, but can’t be stored for very long. After that lesson in carpe diem come the russet-skinned varieties. These outpace the shinseiki by a factor of seven: seven times the size, and seven times as prolific. My children, the primary consumers of the shinseikis, will not eat even one of these later pears. Not one. They are a conundrum.
Recently, on one of my periodic grocery adventures, I encountered in an Asian market a jar of something that looked like marmalade and was labeled “pear tea.” The ingredients were pears, ginger and sugar and the instructions were to dissolve a spoonful in hot water and drink it. A few winters ago my glamorous friend Laura turned me on to yuzu marmalade, which is used similarly and to which I am now addicted. I resolved to try to duplicate this pear item in my home kitchen.
Manic internet searching turned up nothing at all about a pear preserve that could be canned and used as tea, but it did drop me down a curious web wormhole. There is a world of Asian, and primarily Korean, food bloggers writing rhapsodic odes to the steamed pears with ginger and honey that their mothers made for them when they were ill. I did some empirical research when I turned up at my daughter’s dorm with a box of the pears (never leave home without them) and her Korean roommate, who had some friends over, swooned a little and told me about how her mother used to prepare them, and then showed them to the friends, who got all “aw! Love those,” as near as I could deduce from the tone of the conversation and pear-fondles.
My toddle around the web also led me to a honey-lemon-ginger concoction that sounded like just the thing to have at the ready for germ season. I wondered if some hybridization of my own could be arranged.
So with some members of my canning coven I blanched a few pears (thinking of long term storage), and mixed them with lemon and ginger and poured some honey over, and one of these friends went home and started pouring the stuff, mixed into hot water, into her daughter, who had a gripey, lingering grippe. She reported astonishing success. My friend Suzi applied the concoction to her own allergy-suffering offspring, and saw similar results. I nodded scientifically and stored my jar in the fridge.
Then the germs came for my household.
Let it be noted that long-term storage should not be a consideration. In times of siege, a quart jar will disappear in a trice. People in this house who fuss and heckle when I seem to be plying herbal witchcraft were not heard to object to finding this in their mugs. Some of them even nibbled the fruit when they finished the tea.
Then, dear reader, the germs came for me.
Let it be noted that, if you develop the kind of persistent, hacking hornk that defies sleep and sends spouses scattering to guest rooms at land-speed records, you can take a spoonful of the nectar straight up and find instant relief. INSTANT RELIEF. Though I do caution you not to pour any of it onto your foot in your haste, because despite swabbing that foot will stick to the sheets later.
Then THE GERMS DID NOT LEAVE. And so for batch two, I called in two additional team members:
Now we have something to talk about. Broad instructions for making a stash of this stuff for yourself are below. Customize at will (I'll be adding fresh turmeric root to my next cauldron, and I have my eye on the sturdy stalks of last of the fresh mint, too). If all normal precautions of hand-washing and doorknob-avoidance fail you, and the germs lay waste to your agenda, you'll be happy to find this in the icebox.
NOTE: spring for organic lemons even if you usually don't and SHARPEN YOUR KNIVES because a sharp knife is the difference here between happiness and woe.
pear ginger remedy
- 2 organic lemons, divided
- 1 knob of fresh ginger root, about two inches long and carrot-diameter
- 8oz high-quality raw honey
- 1-2 fresh Asian pears
- 1 or more fresh garlic cloves
- 1 fresh hot red chile
- a small knob of fresh turmeric root
Wash the lemons. With a small, sharp knife, score the rind of one lemon all over to open some of the oil-holding cells. Using a larger sharp knife, quarter the lemon lengthwise into wedges, and then cut the wedges crosswise into very thin slices. If you want to get fussy, flick the seeds out of these slices and discard them. Put the lemon slices in a medium size bowl.
Juice the second lemon, and strain that into the bowl.
Using a regular teaspoon from the flatware drawer, peel the ginger (and the turmeric if you are using it). Slice it into very thin coins, then stack the coins 4 or 5 deep and cut into thinny thin thin matchsticks. Add these to the lemons.
Cut the pears into quarters, core them, and cut into eighths. Chop these up, and toss them in the bowl.
Using common sense precautions (gloves, or just extra care not to touch your eyeball later), cut the chile into little bits. If you are nervous, you can discard the seeds. If you are desperate for relief, then keep them. (I kept them). Score the garlic clove(s) lightly all over, keeping intact, or if you are feeling either especially desperate or very hardcore, just chop it up. Into the bowl with these as well.
Toss everything together, then funnel it into a very clean mason jar or other quart jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour about 4 oz of honey over the mixture, leaving several inches free at the top of the jar, then cap tightly and rock, roll and shake gently to distribute the honey. Let it stand on the counter for a few hours, macerating like mad while you shuffle around doing other things. A surprising amount of juice should accumulate. Shake it up and taste the mixture with a clean spoon; add as much of the remaining honey as you like to make things zing. Tuck it into the fridge.
When circumstances demand it, spoon a heaping glop of the fruit and liquid into a mug, bash them up a little with the spoon, and top with very hot water. A travel mug is nice because it strains things as you drink. In the event of a coughing fit, a spoonful of the nectar, neat, is a gift from the angels. Just be sure not to double dip.