The Pai Li and Ya Li pear (First Year)
This is the first year I was able to try the Pai Li Ussurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis), and while it produced more than I could handle, I had a difficult time evaluating them. Originally, I thought they were fairly good, but they generally have a few traits, such as a moderately-low amount of sugar and even less flavor, that some people may not find appealing. Their crisp texture, however, masks these shortcomings quite well and gives it a refreshing attribute, but their relatively tough skin does take away from this advantage.
What ultimately caused me to view them negatively was the last one I was able to try right off the tree (about 3 weeks after they reached maturity). This pear was one of the two that managed to develop enough of its bright flavor that it made me realize how subpar the others really were, and I am under the impression that this problem cannot be solved by merely letting them be for a while longer, since most had fallen by then. Is this something I should expect every year, and if so, would this also occur in a warmer climate?
It did not help that, around this time, I was starting to realize how much their texture degraded in storage, but I wasn't able to test this out very well and I have some doubt with much of what I have been conditioned to expect from Pai Li. I could definitely use another season or two, but then again, it's always best to wait a few years before you form a strong opinion about the performance of a particular variety within your area, since you will experience some variation. However, first year observations are still of more use than nothing.
If you harvest Pai Li shortly after they mature and place them in the fridge, they seem to retain much of their crisp and may even develop a significant amount of flavor after a few weeks, but when they were left at room temperature, they quickly developed a melting texture, similar to that of a properly ripened European pear (which is how some people prefer them). Unfortunately, it did not matter how they were stored, their grit became quite noticeable soon afterward, thus making them only acceptable right off the tree.
In one of their more detailed descriptions, it downplays this flaw by mentioning that the grit is only found near the core, but in my experience, it extended further away than what was implied. It was bad enough that it basically ruined the pear, but no one else has indicated that this was a problem, so maybe this is not typical. I should assume that it's not, but it's difficult for me to have any hope for Pai Li. The only significant positive I have experienced with this variety is that the leaves are exceptionally hardy and develop moderate to strong fall colors in my Dfb climate – where European and Japanese pears generally do not – but this trait seems to be common with those that have some ussuriensis parentage, and while Pai Li may excel on occasion, it currently appears to be, on average, less vibrant than the others.
The story behind the Ya Li Chinese pear (Pyrus x bretschneideri) is much different than that of Pai Li, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty behind it. Part of this is due to the graft producing only a quarter of the amount (at no fault of its own), and since Ya Li apparently takes more time to ripen, I likely ran out of samples before I could get one near its peak. The last one on the tree did have more flavor than the others, though. It was still fairly light, but it was intriguing enough that I would consider grafting Ya Li once again so I could continue to evaluate it elsewhere.
Ya Li isn't as sweet or as crisp as Pai Li, and it is supposedly incapable of developing as much flavor, but Ya Li has an excellent texture that held up very well at room temperature and remained void of grit, even when it came to the one that sat there for an entire month. However, it probably helped that they were harvested quite early, but not to the point where the seeds weren't dark enough to imply a lack of maturity (a state of which the quality of a pear can continue to improve off the tree).
Ya Li had a few other advantages as well. In my climate, it blooms later and usually develops stronger fall colors than Pai Li. I also think Ya Li has a strangely appealing shape, but I am not sure if the pictures do it justice. If the implication others have made about the two being competitive did not make me wonder if my experience with Pai Li was not typical, I would consider Ya Li to be vastly superior, even though I was never able to get one to develop long enough to turn a light yellow color, as they should be.
Related: Pear Varieties