Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fruit of the Month: Ya Li pear

Well, what do you know. I actually fulfilled my New Year's resolution to try a new fruit or vegetable each month in 2013. (Having promised to write blog entries about them all definitely helped me stay motivated to see it through.) Here it is December, and here, right on schedule, is my very last Fruit of the Month entry.

Originally, I was planning to write this post about a green papaya, shown here, that I picked up at the HMart nearly two weeks ago. I'd tasted papaya juice before, but I'd never tried the fruit in its natural state, and I thought it might be interesting to see how it tasted fresh and what kind of things you could do with it. However, after getting it home, I did a bit of research and discovered several things about papayas:
  • A green papaya isn't a particular variety; it's a papaya that isn't ripe yet. If it's ready to eat, it should be a sort of mottled golden yellow.
  • If you leave a green papaya in the fridge, still in its wrappings from the store, it won't get any riper.
  • If you discover your mistake, unwrap the fruit, and leave it out on the counter, it still won't ripen very quickly.
  • It will, however, start to get soft and wrinkly and develop suspicious-looking black spots that lead you to suspect that what you have now can no longer be trusted to ripen to an edible state.
So, rather than stake my chances of completing my New Year's resolution on a questionable fruit that might never become edible, I decided to search the aisles on my next trip to the HMart for something simpler that I could just buy and eat without any special preparations. That way I could get this entry done before we leave on our annual Christmas trip to Brian's family seat out in Indiana. And that's how I ended up with this little Ya Li pear, also apparently known as an Asian pear or, rather poetically, "singing bird pear." It came all individually wrapped like a little Christmas present, in a sort of foam jacket that I'm sure ought to come in handy for something, though at the moment I'm not sure what.

Once I had it unwrapped, it looked just like any other pear, only slightly paler and rounder. The taste and texture, however, were distinctly different. It did have a hint of that familiar pear flavor, but it was much crisper and not nearly as sweet. The texture was more like a firm, watery vegetable than a fruit—perhaps a radish or a crisp cucumber. The flavor was also much lighter than that of the usual Bartlett or Bosc pear, slightly tart, slightly sweet, but not very pronounced. Not bad, and I certainly would eat this fruit again if it were offered to me, but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy it.

Which brings us to the big question: has this Veggie/Fruit of the Month experiment been a success? Well, on the most basic level, it was: I did indeed try twelve (actually, fourteen, if you count the double entries in August and November) new fruits and vegetables, most of which I probably wouldn't have tried if it hadn't been for my pledge. But while my stated goal was merely to try new fruits and vegetables, my actual hope was that this experiment would help or encourage me to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my regular diet, and I can't really say that it's done that. Of the new fruits and veggies I've tried this year, there are a few that I'd definitely be happy to eat again if the opportunity presented itself, such as February's garlic scapes (which made a tasty and extremely powerful pesto) or May's champagne mangoes (which made a light, yet heavenly dessert when served atop a piece of Korean pop snack with whipped cream). But most of them were, frankly, just okay—nothing I'd ever go out of my way to eat.

Moreover, since I was looking specifically for new and unfamiliar fruits and veggies, I often ended up picking obscure varieties that are shipped from some distant land, and eating these more often would go against my ecofrugal inclination to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible. And while a few of the veggies I tried were new varieties grown in our own garden (such as August's Chocolate Beauty pepper and Moreton tomato, and September's Ventura celery), none of them were particularly successful, in terms of either flavor or yield. So given that space in our garden is an extremely limited resource, I don't expect to grow any of these varieties again next year.

So this leads to another question: should I continue my Fruit and Veggie of the Month posts next year, or drop them? On the plus side, it has been interesting trying all these new veggies and fruits, and it has also been nice having one idea for a blog post each month ready-made. But on the other hand, it wasn't always easy finding a new fruits or veggie to try each month, and as I noted before, I often ended up buying non-local produce, even in what would normally be the height of our growing season. So on the whole, I'm inclined to drop the idea of trying something new each month and approach the eat-more-veggies problem from a different angle. For instance, in 2014 I could simply resolve to try twelve new fruits and veggies (or new varieties of familiar ones) without requiring that they be spaced out at a rate of one per month. Or perhaps I could resolve to add several new veggies and/or veggie varieties to our garden (though probably not twelve, since there wouldn't be room) and report on each new variety as it comes into season. I haven't actually selected my seeds for next year's garden yet (more on that in tomorrow's post), but I'm sure there will be at least a few new varieties—and I'm also sure there will be many old familiar favorites, like Waltham butternut squash and Tom Thumb baby Bibb lettuce.

Perhaps the best approach is not to get hung up on trying new fruits and veggies and instead just focus on having more fruits and veggies. So I could continue to highlight a particular fruit or veggie each month, but it wouldn't necessarily have to be a new one: it could be an old friend, something that I look forward to each year as it comes into season, like the first gleaning of dandelion greens in March, or the first few spears of asparagus in April, or the start of apple season in September. Maybe I could even make room on the blog to celebrate those year-round veggies that we so often take for granted, like carrots and potatoes and mushrooms. After all, it isn't just the new and unfamiliar that deserves to be celebrated: the tried and true is worthy of honor too. And by taking the time to notice and celebrate these familiar favorites, perhaps I can make them new again, and come to appreciate them more.

So here's my tentative plan: instead of trying a new fruit or vegetable every month next year, I'll have a monthly post highlighting any fruit or vegetable—either a new one, or an old standard prepared in a new and unfamiliar way. That way, I can expand my repertoire of fruit and vegetable dishes—and work toward my ultimate goal of eating more of them overall—without having to go far afield to find a whole new type of fruit or vegetable each month. 
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