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Nanguo pears are small fruits, averaging 4 to 6 centimeters in diameter, and have a round to oblate shape with a short, thick, and fibrous, dark brown stem. The skin is thin, smooth, and taut, covered in light brown, tiny lenticels. When young, the skin’s base color is yellow-green, and as the fruit matures, it transitions into a golden yellow hue with patches of orange-red blush. Underneath the surface, the flesh is white, soft, semi-granular, and aqueous, encasing a central core filled with black-brown seeds. Nanguo pears bear a subtly sweet aroma and are traditionally stored for 7 to 15 days after harvest to develop their characteristic, full-bodied flavor. During this storage period, the flesh softens and naturally ferments, producing a sweet and tangy white wine flavor.
Nanguo pears are available in the fall through winter.
Nanguo pears, botanically classified as Pyrus ussuriensis, are a rare variety from Northeastern China belonging to the Rosaceae family. The small fruits are nicknamed the “queen of pears” and are considered to be one of the top four varieties of pears cultivated in China, along with crystal, korla, and gong pears. Nanguo pears are the least produced of the four varieties but are highly favored for their white-wine, fermented flavor. The cultivar is a local delicacy of the Liaoning Province and requires specific growing conditions to develop the fruit’s signature flavor. Nanguo pears are sensitive to sunlight, temperature, and soil and are cultivated in a relatively small region in China. Growers are looking to expand cultivation to increase the variety’s visibility in commercial markets, but the fruits currently produced vary in quality, price, and flavor by region, making it difficult to mass market.
Nanguo pears are a good source of copper to maintain a healthy nervous system and vitamin C to strengthen the immune system. The fruits also contain fiber to stimulate the digestive tract, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, vitamin K to promote faster wound healing and provide lower amounts of phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and manganese.
Nanguo pears have a soft, juicy flesh best suited for fresh preparations. The fruits can be eaten with the skin on or peeled, depending on preference, and the flesh can be consumed straight, out-of-hand, tossed into salads, or mixed into fruit bowls. Nanguo pears can also be sliced and served on appetizer plates, wrapped in cured meats, paired with nuts and chocolate, cut and stirred into grain bowls, incorporated into yogurt and granola, or blended into beverages such as fruit juices and smoothies. The rare pear variety is primarily eaten simply to showcase the fruit’s unique flavoring. Beyond fresh preparations, Nanguo pears are also being used to flavor liquors and wines throughout China. Nanguo pears pair well with radishes, leafy greens, celery, fennel, nuts such as cashews, walnuts, and almonds, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, and herbs including mint, thyme, and rosemary. Whole, unwashed Nanguo pears will keep 3 to 5 days when stored ripe in the refrigerator's crisper drawer.
Nanguo pears are a favored fruit in the city of Anshan, China, during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The annual Chinese holiday celebrates family reunions and the full moon, and the date for the festival changes each year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. During the festival, elaborate meals with auspicious ingredients are eaten to bring good luck, and many families choose to travel over the holiday to escape from the pressures of daily life. Pears are one of the customary foods consumed for the Mid-Autumn Festival and are believed to prevent separation or the departure of loved ones. Traditionally, the word pear in Chinese sounds like the word “to separate,” leading many Chinese to superstitiously not share pears to prevent unintended separation. Over the Mid-Autumn Festival, pears are singularly eaten by individuals to help reverse any separation created throughout the year. In Anshan, Nanguo pears are often seen growing on trees along city streets during the Mid-Autumn Festival, filling the air with a sweet fragrance. The pears have become a highlighted attraction of the city, and many tourists visit during the festival to handpick and sample the rare fruits. Visitors also tour the mountains where the pear trees are cultivated to learn about the distinctly flavored variety. Nanguo pears grown in Anshan are believed to have a distinct flavor due to the region's unique cultivation traits. Anshan’s soil is filled with iron, contributing to the fruit’s fermented, mineral-like flavor, and the mountains the trees are grown on have a balanced climate to encourage optimum flavor. This unusual terroir has led Anshan Nanguo pears to be the most desired, and the regional fruits fetch high prices for their limited availability.
Nanguo pears are a natural hybrid native to the Liaoning Province in northeastern China and have been cultivated for over 100 years. The variety was first discovered in Anshan city, a region known for its steel and iron production. Over time, Anshan had developed an industrialized reputation and sought to broaden its image to become a favored tourist destination. The city used Nanguo pears to attract visitors, and within the city, many growers still claim that the mother tree is still alive. The tree is believed to be over 130 years old, and only bears fruits on one side of the trunk. In 1986, Nanguo pears were recognized by the China Fruit Research Institute as a valuable variety. Within the Liaoning Province, Anshan and Liaoyang are the central cities for Nanguo production. The pears also expanded in cultivation to the Hebei and Inner Mongolia Provinces. Today Nanguo pears are primarily localized to Northeastern China, but the fruits are beginning to be exported to Europe and United States as a rare, specialty fruit sold through Asian grocers.
Recipes that include Nanguo Pears. One is easiest, three is harder.