Autumn is the best time to visit Beijing. The sun is warm, the breeze is cool, and it’s prime fruit season!
One of the best things to do in Beijing is to get out of it. Come the weekend, city dwellers like to leave the noise and dust of the city behind and instead, head for the countryside for some fresh air, scenery, and good ol’-fashioned country cooking.
(I’m going to give a warning in advance for the extremely photo-heavy post.)
If you’ve seen my Instagram updates, you’ll have seen that I’m in Beijing at the moment. My mom and sister are both in from California, so I’ve flown in too to meet up with them. Once again, I’m so thankful for the flexibility I have. Beijing has proven to be quite a good middle-ground meeting place!
Family reunions are not easy to come by anymore, with everyone scattered all over the place and limited vacation times and such. It’s been a year again since I’ve seen my sister, and years since her last visit to Beijing.
What better re-bonding activity than a day out pear picking in the Beijing countryside? Perfect autumnal activity, peaceful setting, tons of photo opportunities. Check, check, and check.
On a breezy and slightly overcast Sunday morning, our two families (mine and my aunt’s) drove up to Beijing’s famous pear-producing area, BuLaoTun (不老屯).
The pear orchards lay on the north bank of Beijing’s MiYun reservoir – a huge lake surrounded by rolling hills where the entire city of Beijing gets its drinking water. The reservoir is also famous for its fish. Beijingers love coming up here to eat fish in one of the many country-cooking restaurants.
We drove through windy mountain roads overlooking the glittering water. And finally ended up in the little village of BuLaoTun.
This little outing is all thanks to my Auntie Hui, who also happened to be in town from Japan. She hooked us up with her old college friends, who graciously invited us to visit their little pear orchard for a day of country living.
The couple has had a couple of successful technology companies, and now lives a leisurely retired life. For fun, they bought a little patch of orchard in BuLaoTun. Just a little something to bring joy into their lives. (Oh, lifestyles of the wealthy.)
And then it was into the orchard we go! The place is gorgeous. Beautiful morning glory flowers dotted our path as we headed into the lush foliage.
Upon walking into the orchard, one of the first sights that greeted us was a group of chickens.
By day, the chickens are free to roam wherever they please. And by night, they fly up to sleep on the surrounding pear trees, freely munching on juicy pears. These are probably the happiest cage-free chickens you’ll ever find!
(They probably taste yummy too since they grew up eating pears. :P)
The gaggle of geese are the guardians. Their job is to protect the chicken from coyotes. The geese are so funny. They always moved together as one group in perfect formation, never one stepping out of line. They take their bodyguard job seriously.
Soon enough, it was time to get to work!
We were taught to use a contraption they invented to reach the pears high up in a tree.
It works alright….
… but picking pears by hand is even easier and more fun!
And some of us enjoyed the chance to be big kids again by climbing the trees.
This region is famous for producing the best pears due to its ideal climate. There are two kinds of pears:
Golden pears (tang li) which are smaller in size, have thick rough skin, and are sour-sweet in taste.
And the best are the Chinese pears, called ya li (鸭梨; translation: “duck bill pears”). This is an ancient heirloom cultivar that dates back 600 years! They have a thinner smooth skin with refreshing super crisp flesh. They’re prized for being incredibly sweet and juicy.
The harvest date for ya li is in late September, so we were able to catch the last of the harvest.
Legend goes that when Emperor QianLong (who reigned in the 1700’s and was China’s most adored emperor) passed by BuLaoTun and stayed for a night, he was largely unimpressed with all food offerings. At their wits end, the village people brought before him a plate of the local ya li. His eyes immediately lit up and upon the first bite, he was amazed by their sweet juiciness and delicious crispness. Because of his endorsement, the pears from this region achieved countrywide fame.
The owners are adamant that absolutely no pesticides are used. This is organic pears at their finest. You can eat them straight from the tree! There’s nothing like working up a sweat, and then plucking a pear from the tree and sinking your teeth into its sweet, juicy flesh.
We spent a morning wandering through the pear trees and filling up our boxes with the fruits. Of course, with a ton of goofing off and photo breaks.
In the end, I think we took home about 12+ boxes of pears in between our two families, with each box containing 24+ pears. I had no idea how we can possibly eat them all, but we’ve been making a pretty good dent. Let’s just say that there are still a LOT of pears in our future.
While walking out of the orchard, we made bouquets of morning glory for Grandma.
But when saying bye to the billy goats, they ate them all!
After a morning of hard work behind us, we were all ravenous. And with that, we headed to a little country restaurant for some true home-style cooking (see what a Chinese country meal is like in the next post!).
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