Don’t forget the pears
Most of us know autumn as apple season — but it’s pear season too! With the abundance of crisp fall apples from local Champlain Valley orchards, pears get short shrift. Yet to French pastry chefs, sweet, juicy pears are king among fruits. And the Greek poet Homer in the Odyssey referred to pears as the “Food of the Gods.”
Pyrus communis is a pome fruit related to apples. Like apples, this Old World fruit arrived in the Americas with the colonists. Pears have been around since the Stone Age, and have been cultivated in China, Egypt, Greece and Rome for more than 3,000 years. By the Middle Ages, Italians cultivated more than 200 varieties of pears.
Today, there are more than 3,000 varieties of pears, though only a few are grown commercially. The most common varieties are Bosc, Bartlett (the one most often canned) and Anjou. Most pears sold in supermarkets are grown in the northwest.
The season begins in August with miniature varieties like Forelle and Seckel. Comice, Asian and Bosc varieties are available through late October.
Comice pears are the most fragrant. They’re juicy and sweet, so are wonderful raw as a snack. Bosc pears don’t fall apart when cooked, so they’re the best for poaching.
Since they contain natural sugars — fructose, glucose and levulose — pears are a natural source of quick energy. A medium-sized pear has about 100 calories.
This nutrient-dense fruit is also a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which benefits your digestive tract as well as the cardiovascular system. Pears have high amounts of folate, copper, potassium and polyphenol antioxidants, as well as vitamins C and K. Pears are less likely to produce an allergic reaction than most other fruits.
Because pears ripen from the inside out, it can be hard to tell when they’re fully ripe. Unripe pears are hard and bitter; over-ripe pears is gritty, mushy, and messy to eat. Test for ripeness by pressing gently at the top of the pear. It should have a slight give to it and just beginning to soften.
Pears can be eaten and used in much the same ways as apples. In France, pears are often served as a dessert course with cheese and wine because of their elegant presentation and delicate flavor. Pear varieties offer a diversity of textures and flavors, which allows for an infinite array of wine and cheese pairings.
For a substantial snack, serve pears with blue cheese and crackers. For a delightful dessert, sprinkle sliced pears with cinnamon, then top with goat cheese and chopped walnuts. For a breakfast treat, stir chopped pears, chopped walnuts, honey and grated fresh ginger into your oatmeal.
In addition to desserts, pears are great in fall soups, green salads, grain salads and cheese plates. Try a fall pasta salad with pears, apples, walnuts and a creamy, sweet yogurt dressing. Local pears are available at your favorite fruit stand or orchard. This is the time of year to take full advantage of them!
Skillet Pear Coffee Cake
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Pears (or 1 pear and 1 apple)
For the batter:
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup rolled oats
Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Slice pears in 1/4-inch wedges and arrange on top of brown sugar butter mixture. Chop any extra fruit into dice.
In a bowl, beat eggs with salt. Beat in maple syrup and yogurt.
In another bowl combine flour with baking soda. Beat into the batter.
Stir in oats, and any fruit you have left (I had about a cup). You could also stir in raisins or craisins.
Spoon dough on top of fruit in skillet. Bake 20 – 30 minutes, or until the top is brown and a toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean.
Remove from oven. Flip over onto a plate and remove skillet.
Note: If you don’t have a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, use a cake pan. Place the browned butter / sugar mixture on the bottom, then proceed according to the recipe.
Serves 6 to 8.
Pear and Bok Choy salad
1 bunch tender bok choy, green and white parts
1 bunch scallions, green and white parts (or 1 sweet onion)
For the dressing:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon mustard
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons Tamari sauce (or soy sauce)
2 pears (I used 1 bosc, 1 bartlett)
1/2 cup walnuts, for garnish
Prepare bok choy by separating stems and washing. Set aside.
Prepare scallions by cutting off root ends and washing. Set aside.
In bottom of salad bowl, with a whisk or fork, combine dressing ingredients.
Slice bok choy and scallions, and stir into the dressing.
Rinse pears, core, slice, and add. Add walnuts and stir in. Garnish with additional walnuts and pear slices.
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 found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Words Are My World.