Nashi (Pyrrus pyrifolia) grow to 3–5cm tall, and 2–3cm wide, and are essentially a small deciduous tree with tiers of graceful, evenly spaced branches. In spring, before the light green leaves appear, these are covered with small, snowy-white flowers with pale pink centres.
Also known as Asian pears, nashi are prolific croppers. They are a crisp, juicy, rounded fruit, with the texture of a pear, and have a light golden brown skin.
They are generally healthy, easily-grown trees that tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. Like their European cousins they are at their best in fertile, medium to heavy, well-drained soils.
Nashi are quick to bear fruit, but don’t like extremes of climate, and if they are to bear bountiful crops their roots need regular deep soaking.
Choose a sunny spot, and plant in well-prepared ground enriched with compost and aged animal manure, such as sheep pellets.
The pears are partially self-pollinating, but fruit set is better when two varieties are grown together.
Young trees need to be well mulched, and watered twice weekly in hot, dry weather to ensure steady root development while they’re getting established.
They require regular feeding with compost and mature animal manure, and its best to supplement in early spring and mid-summer with an all-round fertiliser or a handful of general purpose fertiliser.
Every spring flower seems to set fruit so you need to thin your crop for maximum fruit size — remove all but two or three fruit per cluster, and you may need to support branches in summer as the weight of the crop increases.
Prune in winter to maintain a single central leader, with open layers between branches for good air movement and to let sun penetrate — also remove any dead, diseased or broken wood.
Two main varieties are grown — ‘Hosui,’ which has an attractive, weeping growth habit, and ‘Nijiseiki,’ an upright, spreading tree.
The fruit of ‘Hosui’ are medium to large, golden-brown with a sweet, juicy flavour and texture.
‘Nijiseiki’ produces large crops of crisp, crunchy, medium-sized fruit — the flavour is mild, with some tartness towards the middle.
It is a good pollinator for ‘Hosui,’ although some nurseries produce a ‘double nashi’ tree grafted with both these varieties — an excellent space-saving option for those with small gardens.
Nashi pears are a source of folate, essential for producing red blood cells, and are ready for eating in late summer or autumn. They can be eaten raw or used in cooked dishes (they keep their shape), and make an ideal apple replacement in many recipes.
For an autumn salad, toss together salad greens, dates, prosciutto, mint and sliced, cored nashi pear. Drizzle over a light vinaigrette and serve.
For a healthy dessert, cut and core pears. In a bowl, mix ricotta cheese, honey, ground ginger and ground cinnamon. Fill the centre of each pear with the ricotta filling, and refrigerate until ready to serve.