By Nao Yako / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSANJO, Niigata — People are drawn to Le Lectier pears for the texture of their flesh, which melts in the mouth, and their sweet, full-bodied fragrance.
About 80 percent of the domestically cultivated Le Lectier harvest comes from Niigata Prefecture, where producers started shipping the European-variety pears in late November.
I visited a farm in Sanjo in the prefecture at the end of October during harvest season. The Le Lectier orchard stretched out beside a river, with pears hanging from branches supported by trellises about 1.7 meters high. Each pear was covered by its own protective bag.
Hiroki Tsuchida of Tsuchida Noen farm was harvesting the pears, removing the bags to check their color and size. When I saw the brilliant greenish-yellow fruit, my first thought was, can I eat a freshly picked one. But Tsuchida warned me that they weren’t ripe enough to eat yet.
For about 40 days after harvesting, Le Lectier pears must be stored at a temperature of 10 C to 15 C to ripen. They are then shipped when 90 percent ripe.
The timing of the shipping is carefully managed. If they are shipped early when the supply is low, the sale price is higher. But if pears that are not ripe enough to eat are put on the market, the popularity of the variety may decline.
Thus, Le Lectier producers in the prefecture jointly select the date that pears will first be sold each year. This year, the date was Nov. 22.
The kind of Western pear most cultivated in Japan is another European variety, La France, with 987 hectares given over to growing it. Meanwhile, Le Lectiers are cultivated on a total of just 133 hectares.
According to JA Zen-Noh Niigata and other organizations, the cultivation of Le Lectiers started in the Meiji era (1868-1912). However, they are said to be relatively hard to grow as they are vulnerable to disease and do not flower easily.
Major production areas such as Sanjo and Niigata cities have a lot of rain and high humidity in autumn. The fertile ground of the Shinanogawa river basin is perfect for cultivating the pear variety.
Given the small scale of production, the fruit is on sale for only one month. The limited availability is one of the reasons for their popularity and people sometimes buy them as gifts. As part of efforts to provide their delicious flavor year-round, producers have started selling products such as Le Lectier jelly and compote cooked in syrup.
Tsuchida let me taste a Le Lectier before it was shipped — a special treat. Since being picked in early October, the pear had ripened. Its skin was yellow and somewhat supple, and it had a unique, sweet smell. I took a bite and enjoyed its elegant sweetness — it felt as if the flesh of the pear was melting in my mouth.
Le Lectier pears have a high sugar content of about 16 degrees on the Brix scale, and the fruit’s juiciness also gives it a refreshing flavor.
“One bite and you’ll be hooked. As we grow the pears with great care, I would like many people to eat them,” Tsuchida said.
Tsuchida Noen farm sells Le Lectier pears by mail order. (http://www.tsuchida-farm.com/), starting at ¥1,900 for 1 kilogram (two or three pears). The pears also are available at JA Zen-Noh Niigata’s website (http://www.ja-town.com/shop/c/c3901/). Tel: (025) 232-1580
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