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NewCityNet Pear Appeal

A new twist on an old fruit.

By A. LaBan

MAY 18, 1998:  There are very few things that I just don't like to eat. Beets. I can't stand beets. Raw coconut. I dislike raw coconut, although I like the milk in Thai food. Pears. I've never been a fan of pears.

I don't know what it is about pears. Maybe it's the texture, kind of grainy and slippery at the same time. It could be the things I associate with pears. The pear-shaped figure. Heart-healthier but not nearly as good-looking in clothes as the apple-shaped figure.

There are more than 3,000 varieties of pear grown throughout the world. France, home of the tarte, is known for its superior pears. About 90 percent of the pears we're most familiar with-"winter pears" like the Anjou that remain in excellent condition in storage through the cold months-are grown in Oregon and Washington.

Sweet and flavorful, pears are used to create some of the most innovative salads, cutting-edge entrées and elegant desserts. So why have I never liked pears? Could it be that I hadn't yet met the right pear for me?

The thought occurred to me when I heard about Packham's Triumph, a pear just being introduced to North American by the Unifruco collective of fruit growers from South Africa. It was the Unifruco collective that exported the Granny Smith apple to us under the "Cape" brand; as well as Barlinka grapes, those gigantic black grapes that everyone thinks are plastic when they see them piled plumply in a bowl on your kitchen table.

Now those South African farmers, who export nearly 7 million cartons of pears a year, are sending us Packham's Triumph, the king of pears. The Packham, which originated in Australia in the late nineteenth century, was created by crossing two Southern Hemisphere varieties-the Bon Chretien and the St. Germain. It was introduced to South Africa in 1922, where it thrives during the cool winters and the warm summers of the fertile valleys of the Cape of Good Hope.

The Packham is medium-to-large and sometimes unevenly shaped. It's green in color with prominent dark-green lenticels (pear-speak for pores). It can be eaten out-of-hand or is robust enough to be baked, cooked or sautéed. According to spokesperson Barbara Burman, "It's one of the best all-around pears you can find, juicy and delicious."

In the interest of full disclosure, Burman did admit that the Packham "is not a particularly good-looking pear." Similar to the Granny Smith apple but in contrast to some of the more flamboyant pears, the green Packham never blushes significantly (changes color) when ripe, which can make it tricky to determine when it's ready to eat. You can't just grab a pear at the market and bite into it. As with any pear, when you buy Packhams, you should refrigerate them for long-term storage. Since they're delicate and can bruise when shipped, pears are typically picked before they are ripe and are shipped in a mature, but firm and unripened state. When you're ready to ripen yours, put the pears in a paper bag with a seasoned banana or apple to speed up the process, close tightly and leave at room temperature. The Packham will be perfect when it smells fragrant and yields slightly to gentle pressure at its stem end.

The Packham's flesh is creamy-white with a fine, smooth texture, in contrast to the gritty, less-princely pears I'm familiar with. The flesh of some varieties tends to contain scleroids, or stone cells. Scleroids are groups of cells whose walls are thickened with lignin, which gives some pears their gritty texture. The Packham is apparently scleroid-free.

Packhams deliver a lot of nutrient power per approximately 100 calories per pear. They contain generous amounts of vitamins C and E, as well as potassium. They're fat-free, and their fiber supposedly helps ward off certain cancers. Their glucose and fructose content make them a good energy source, while their complex carbohydrates make them a good addition to the diets of non-insulin- dependent diabetics who have a sweet tooth. For extra punch, levulose, the sweetest of known sugars, is found to a greater extent in fresh pears than in any other fruit. The pectin and fiber in pears also retards the rate at which the stomach is emptied, giving a full and satisfied feeling after eating. Friends of mine say they like the way their teeth feel when they polish off a meal with a pear.

Packham's Triumphs should be available on your grocer's shelves through June.

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