Days are getting shorter and the air is becoming crisper. Leaves are starting to turn, and another school year has begun! With these sure signs of fall, comes the return of Sierra Harvest’s farm to school program, now in its fourth year. Serving 19 local schools with over 6,400 students, farm to school is off to a running start for the 2015-16 school year.
Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School Program provides several elements that connect students to where their food comes from including: school produce stands, field trips to local farms, tasting week with guest chefs, farmers in the classroom, plant sales in the spring…and of course, the Harvest of the Month Program! Since 2012, the Harvest of the Month program has brought over 14 tons of organic produce into the mouths and bellies of local students, tracking a 43% increase in the preference for these local fruits and veggies!
We’re back at it for another year, aiming to support more farmers and get even more students to try fresh, seasonal produce. So get those taste buds ready, there’s a whole school year of seasonal produce ahead of us. Starting with a crunchy, sweet, juicy treat- Asian pears.
The organic pears for September’s tastings are coming from Gabriel Farm, a 14 acre family farm in Sebastopol. Because of the drought, Gabriel Farm has a lot of small sized fruit that is harder to sell- but this is a perfect fit for each student to have their own pear!
Now, sit back and take in all you need to know about the delicious (and decidedly under-appreciated) Asian pear:
· Asian pears comprise a large group of pear varieties that have a crisp texture and juicy, melon-like flavor. Unlike European pear varieties (like Bartlett), Asian pears are ripe and ready to eat right after harvest with a crisp texture and unique flavor that can keep for several months with proper refrigeration. Because they are crisp like an apple, they are often called apple pears. In many other places in the world, they are called Nashi.
· There are three main types of Asian pears- yellow, bronze and green. Often they are “russeted” which means that they have brown patches.
· Asian pears are low in calories with about 50 calories per medium sized pear. They are a good source of vitamin C with each pear containing 8% of your daily requirement and provide a fair amount of fiber, most of which is found in the skin.
· During the Edo period in Japan, pears were believed to ward off evil and misfortune and were often planted near gates and in the corner of properties for protection.
· Asian pears are native to Japan and China where they have been grown for over 3,000 years! The first documented appearance of an Asian pear in the United States was recorded in 1820 when a Chinese sand pear was imported to Flushing, New York. In the mid 1800’s Asian pears made their way to the west coast by way of Chinese and Japanese immigrants relocating to California after the Gold Rush.
· There are over 3,000 varieties of pears grown around the world!
· Native to Asia and Europe, the first pear tree was planted in North America in 1620 in the Massachusetts Bay colony.
· The Chinese considered the pear, which they call “li,” to be a symbol of immortality. The destruction of a pear tree symbolized tragic or untimely death.
· In Chinese, fen li means both “to share a pear” and “to separate.” Therefore, it is considered bad luck in China to share a pear because it may lead to separation of friends or lovers.
· In the Odyssey, Homer called the pear a “gift from the Gods.”
· Most pears (about 95%) sold in the U.S. are grown on the west coast, in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.
· Towns with an abundance of pear trees often included the word Perry in the name of the town.
· Pears were used as a natural remedy against nausea in ancient Greece.
· Pear wood is very strong! It is used to make furniture, musical instruments, wood carvings, and kitchen utensils. Architect’s rulers are made from pear wood because it doesn’t warp.
· Pears are considered by some to be hypoallergenic because pear allergy is rare. However, people who are allergic to Alder or Birch pollen may be allergic to pears as well.
Ready to start eating Asian pears? After all those fact, how could you not be?
Try slicing it up and sneak it into a grilled cheese! Or, cut up and put on a salad instead of apple- add some walnuts or pecans, goat cheese…and get downright gourmet. Of course, there’s the easy way- just eat it! Luckily, Asian pears don’t brown after cutting, so add them cut up to school lunches- or fill with ricotta for breakfast, or dessert…
PEAR DESSERT: RICOTTA STUFFED ASIAN PEARS WITH CINNAMON RECIPE
This ricotta stuffed pears with cinnamon recipe is incredibly rich, satisfying, and healthy! The ultimate pear dessert without the guilt- it could even be breakfast!
· 4 ripe Asian apple pears
· 1 cup ricotta cheese
· 1 tablespoon honey (or more to taste)
· 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
· 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
· Cinnamon for dusting
1. Slice pears in half. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and scoop a divot out the center of each pear half, making it large enough to hold at least a tablespoon of filling.
2. In a small bowl, mix ricotta and honey until they are completely combined.
3. Mix in cinnamon and ginger.
4. Fill the center of each pear half with ricotta filling. Don’t be afraid to heap it on – this is good stuff!
5. Sprinkle the entire thing with a light dusting of cinnamon.
6. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If covered, they will keep a couple of hours.
7. Serve chilled.
Recipe by Stephanie Stiavetti from www.theculinarylife.com