Pears: succulent and sweet

When I was growing up, a friend had a pear tree in her inner city back yard. Come fall, we feasted on the tender, juicy fruit that Homer had referred to as “Gifts from the Gods” in his epic, The Odyssey.

Sweet, juicy pears are among the most glorious of fall fruits. They have been around since prehistoric times and may have provided food for Stone Age cave dwellers. Originating in Asia, Pyrus communis (the scientific name for pears) are members of the rose family, related to the apple and the quince. They have been cultivated in China, Egypt, Greece and Rome for more than 3,000 years. The Romans made pear wine, and Pliny listed more than forty varieties. Early colonists in Massachusetts planted the first pear tree on the American continent in 1620.

Today there are thousands of varieties, the most common in the US being the Bosc, Bartlett, and Anjou. They vary somewhat in flavor, color, size and shape, but all are sweet and juicy with soft white flesh. New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, the Northwest and California produce most of our “homegrown” pears.

High concentrations of fructose, glucose and levulose (the sweetest known natural sugar) make pears an excellent source of quick energy. They are also packed with fiber and pectin, important for digestive and cardiovascular health. One pear provides 4 grams of fiber, or about one-sixth of the recommended daily value, and contains more pectin than an apple. They are also a good source of vitamin C, copper, and potassium.

At the market, look for pears that have a nice aroma, are firm, smooth, free of bruises, and not overly hard. A ripe pear will yield slightly when you press gently around the stem. Pears are often picked unripe to prevent them from getting bruised and grainy during shipping. If you buy green pears, ripen them at room temperature and out of direct sunlight; a paper bag (but not plastic) is good for this. Once ripe, pears are quite perishable, so store in the refrigerator.

Fresh, ripe pears are delicious “as is”, as a snack or packed in a lunch. Simply wash them under cool running water, and enjoy. Add chopped pears to oatmeal or other breakfast cereal and season with a little honey and cinnamon or ginger. Serve pear slices with cheese or ham for a wholesome snack. For lunch, make a sandwich of grilled chicken toped with pear slices. Bake or broil them and serve with a light sauce for a quick and easy dessert. Try them in compote with apple juice or wine and other fruit, or add them to mixed roasted vegetables. They are also great in a variety of green and fruit salads, and of course in pies, breads and muffins.

Pear, Leek and Walnut Salad

Ingredients:

2 leeks (about 1 or 2 cups, sliced)

1 Tablespoon salt

1 cup shelled walnuts

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon apple cider or apple juice

1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce (about 6-8 ounces)

2 pears

1/2 red onion, peeled and sliced into thin crescents or a few leaves of red oakleaf lettuce to add color, for garnish (or both)

Directions:

Cut leeks in half lengthwise, then slice them across. Discard the tough dark green leaves. Place sliced leeks in colander, wash thoroughly under running water, and mix thoroughly with the salt. Leave for 20-30 minutes, and rinse to remove excess salt.

Toast walnuts. You can do this by spreading in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet and baking in a preheated, 450 oven just three to four minutes, until fragrant (be careful not to burn them). Set aside.

In salad bowl, blend the oil, vinegar, and apple cider. Add the lettuce, and mix well. Core and dice the pears, and stir in along with the leeks and toasted walnuts. Garnish with sliced red onion, red leaf lettuce, or both, if you wish. Serves 4-6.

Pear Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients:

1 egg

1/3 cup oil

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup milk

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup unbleached white flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large pear

1 small tart apple

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In large bowl, beat egg with fork or beater. Beat in the oil and sugar, then the milk. Stir in the oats. Combine flours with baking powder and salt; stir into the batter.

Wash, core and dice the fruit (no need to peel), and stir into the batter along with the nuts. Prepare muffin tins (butter or line with paper liners). Divide batter among twelve muffins. Bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Test for doneness with a toothpick; they are done when it comes out clean.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.

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