So-called tree fruits contain multiple seeds, in contrast to a single stone or pit. Asian pears and figs are the tree fruits that hit their peak during the summer months.
The Asian pear belongs to a species completely different from regular pears. Resembling large, pale yellow green apples, they have a flowery fragrance, a mildly sweet flavor and a slightly granular texture that bursts with juice from the first bite.
The fig, among the oldest-known foods in the world, is, in fact, a flower swollen and turned in on itself, while the many tiny “seeds” are the actual fruit of the tree. Figs may be the sweetest of all tree fruits.
Unlike regular pears, Asian pears are a little firm when ripe. They are sometimes sold wrapped in protective webbing to prevent bruising.
Choose plump figs that are dry and soft to the touch but not wrinkled, bruised or discolored. Those with a web of delicate fissures, revealing particularly moist and sweet fruit, are highly prized.
Once ripened at room temperature, Asian pears should be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep well for up to 2 weeks.
Figs are extremely fragile and perishable so are best eaten as soon as possible after purchase. If needed, store them in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days, arranged in a single layer on a paper towel-lined tray.
Asian pears are best enjoyed raw on their own or in salads and on cheese trays. Leave them unpeeled when eating raw. Although they can be cooked in many of the same ways as regular pears, they require significantly longer cooking and remain relatively firm. If cooking Asian pears, peel them first.
Rinse fresh figs under cold running water and gently pat dry before serving. Overhandling will bruise the delicate fruit. The peel is edible and, unless specified in a recipe, can be left on the fruit. Use a sharp paring knife to cut figs in half lengthwise.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)
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