In season through early summer, this fiber-filled fruit provides a welcome respite from apples
It could be that the syllable count flowed with the lyric: pear tree vs. apple tree. Or it could be that the songwriters just really liked pears and so wrote them into the first line of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” to be repeated, you remember, ad nauseum! Or is it coincidence that pears come into season about the same time we start thinking about wreaths, holly and mistletoe?
Whatever the explanation, pears are in local stores, in season through May at the earliest, providing a fiber-rich, softertexture alternative to apples, which are so last season. So while USA Pears hit upon the marketing notion to designate December as National Pear Month, it doesn’t hurt that grocery stores seem to carry a greater variety of the hourglassshaped fruit. While Americans love their Bartletts, they shouldn’t overlook the other differently textured but just as tasty pear varieties.
Even though there are more than 3,000 known pear types, only a handful sold are familiar to the America palate. Pears tend to retail for anywhere from $1.50 to $3 a pound, the more expensive price tag paying for the organic label. And because we tend to eat pears unpeeled, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group suggest purchasing the organic versions. The USDA has found that 94 percent of pears sampled contain pesticides. If the cost of organics feels prohibitive to you, a thorough wash with cold water should help alleviate most pesticide fears.
Although the most popular pear eaten in this country is the Bartlett, you may find you prefer its more colorful cousin, the red Bartlett or the similarly juicy Comice, the more durable and pithier Bosc, the green or red Anjou, or the small yet sweet and juicy Seckel.
Pears are tricky, however. A pear is one of those fruits that does not ripen on the tree, and they can take days to ripen at home. Once they reach their perfect texture, you need to eat them right away or you’ll have a bruised, mushy mess on your hands. A good rule of thumb is to have two or three ripening in your fruit bowl at one time; whoever takes a ripe one to eat needs to replace it with one in the refrigerator.
The best way to test ripeness is to gently apply thumb pressure to the neck, or stem end, of the pear. If it yields to pressure, it’s ripe. Still, as with bananas, folks prefer pears on all stops of the ripeness spectrum. “Some love them firm, sweetter and crisp, while others like them sweet and ultra-juicy,” notes Cristie Mather, communications director for Pear Bureau Northwest, based in Portland, Ore., a peargrowing hotspot. “Our goal simply is to help people enjoy fresh pears at their own perfect point of ripeness.”
In fact, if you’re cooking or baking with pears, it’s best to use those just on the cusp of perfect ripeness, so the tart, cake or crisp retains the perfect texture.
If you have three or four that have ripened simultaneously, make a tasty salad out of them. While this recipe, culled from an old Woman’s Day magazine, calls for Bartlett pears, why not try what’s available, or even combine a few different varieties? Chop the pears and place them in a serving bowl. Add a half-cup of chopped walnuts and drizzle with Vidalia onion salad dressing. Stir gently. Serve over mixed greens and with crusty bread for a light, satisfying and healthy lunch, or serve alongside a roast pork.
Like all fruits, pears make a healthy, satisfying snack. Pears are an excellent source of fiber, packing 6 grams, and a decent source of vitamin C (10 percent of your daily requirement) in a 100-calorie package. By contrast, an apple contains 4 grams of fiber and 17 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement in its 80 calories. Sure their nutritional content is similar, but why not branch out and give pears a try?
That’s exactly what Jim Paglia, owner of Boulangerie Café, 526 Plum St., decided to do when he created the Franklin Square spot’s sandwich featuring pears. Paglia tops sourdough bread with smoked turkey, cheddar cheese, sliced pears, spinach and garlic mayonnaise for a tasty lunch that costs $7.
“It’s a very popular sandwich,” he says. “I think it’s the combination. In fact, people like it so much, it would probably cause a problem if I took it off the menu. It goes really well on the sourdough bread that we bake here; this sandwich was built for that bread.”
As for Paglia’s choice of pear, he goes with what’s available. “Usually Bartletts, sometimes Bosc, because they are in season more in the winter. There’s no real difference in the flavor; they’re both sweet.”
Over in Madison County, at the Brewster Inn, 6 Ledyard Ave., Cazenovia, executive sous chef Stephen Franks likewise uses pears when they’re in season, meaning now. “We always try to use fresh, local, seasonal ingredients,” Franks points out, “and we’re always changing the menu around those ingredients.”
Pears’ heartier texture, as compared to apples, makes them easier to cook with. “They’re very different than an apple in texture and taste. They add another layer of flavor when you cook with them, and they hold their shape better than apples, so they’re good for poaching.”
As for what pairs well with pears, Franks mentions soft, flavorful cheese like blue and gorgonzola; nuts like walnuts and pecans; and the heavier spices of cumin and coriander. “Pork goes really well with pears,” he adds, “bacon, pancetta, prosciutto.”
And if you prefer the crispness of apples for a salad, he suggests you give an Asian pear a whirl. “They are great for salads because they stay crisp like an apple; in fact, for any raw presentation, try an Asian pear.”
As the days lighten later and grow dark earlier—as least until the solstice—pick a peck of pairs to brighten the winter season. Eat them out of hand, in salad, as part of a tasty dessert or in any of the following recipes:
This recipe comes courtesy of Stephen Franks at the Brewster Inn.
2 pounds fresh pears, peeled and diced
2 cups diced dried fruit (apricots, craisins, raisins, cherries or whatever else you like)
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup diced onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon garlic chili paste
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon clove
Place all ingredients in a sauce pot and bring to a simmer for 60 to 90 minutes or until the chutney is reduced to the desired constancy. Finish with salt and pepper to taste and 1 tablespoon butter. Add chopped nuts if you like. Serve alongside assorted cheeses, atop meats, fish or poultry, or use on a sandwich instead of mayonnaise.
Vanilla Poached Pears
This recipe is from foodnetwork.com.
Peel, halve and core 4 pears. Put in a shallow dish with 1 cup white wine, 2/3 cup sugar, 2 strips grapefruit zest and 1 split vanilla bean. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave about 10 minutes. Serve the pears with the vanilla syrup; top with whipped cream, if desired.
Gingered Pears and Parsnips
This recipe is from foodnetwork.com.
Combine 2 quartered Bosc pears and 3 sliced parsnips in a skillet with 1/2 cup each white wine and chicken broth, 2 tablespoons butter, the juice of 1 lemon, a few slices ginger, 1 bay leaf and a pinch each of sugar and red pepper flakes. Partially cover and boil until the liquid evaporates and the pears brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in a splash of water.
Streusel Pear Tart
This recipe is from the November 2011 issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.
1/2 package refrigerated pie crust
6 firm-ripe Anjou or Bartlett pears
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon apple pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Unroll the pie crust into a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the crust against the bottom and sides of the pan, trimming the top as needed so it is even with the rim. Refrigerate. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Peel, core and cut the pears into 1/2-inch thick slices and place in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, the apple pie spice and salt. Toss that mixture with the pears to coat, then spoon into the prepared pie crust.
In a medium bowl, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the pears. Place the tart on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the top is browned and the pears are tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm.