What's in season: Sometimes referred to as an "apple pear" or "sand pear," Asian pears come in more than 100 varieties. They're a type native to East Asia, and many of the original California plantings were started by Japanese immigrants a century or more ago. Often much larger and juicier than their European counterparts, Asian pears are crisp and fragrant; maybe think of them as halfway between an apple and a pear. The pears can be found from late summer well into fall; similar to apples, they vary extensively when it comes to color, shape and flavor. Some varieties spotted recently include Kosui, which is lightly sweet with hints of vanilla; and Olympic, a hardy variety with sweet, crisp notes.
What to cook: Asian pears are great just eaten out of hand, or you can slice them and add to salads or cheese platters. Or add them to tarts or bake the pears into crumbles, complementing the subtle flavors with cinnamon or nutmeg. The pears also work well added to savory dishes, sauteed, pureed or even roasted, and served alongside pork or duck.
What's on the horizon: Mirza melons, a flavorful variety from Uzbekistan, is showing up; the long, yellow melon is one of many in season through early fall. Bunches of fresh dates, often still on stalks, are at markets for the next few weeks — slightly softened and sweet, they have a crunch similar to an apple. Look for fresh dates that are fully ripened, as unripe ones have a tendency to be bitter.