Pears: A Fall Fruit Achieves Pear-ity

The food writer Edward Bunyard said of the pear: "As it is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption."

If you are of the Bunyard school, be prepared to plan ahead. The majority of supermarket pears are still in their crunchy, audible state because pears, unlike most other fruit, actually ripen better on the windowsill than on the tree. Don't store them in the refrigerator unless they're fully ripe and, for some strange reason, you don't want to eat them quite yet.

Selecting unripe pears is a black art. You can't tell by look, feel, or smell whether they're going to be good. Your best bet is to find a source for good ones and keep going back.

There are thousands of pear varieties, but you'll probably find only a few in your local market. The most common are Bosc, Bartlett, Anjou, and Comice, and their flavors, colors, and textures vary. The best of the bunch, in my view, are Comice, because when they're ripe, they're juicy, flavorful, and meltingly soft. Bunyard would approve.

If you're doing anything with pears that requires slicing them, use a little lemon juice to prevent the cut pieces from browning.

  • Use pears instead of apples when making cobbler, and add a splash of brandy.
  • Brush pear halves with balsamic vinegar and a little melted butter, then grill 8 to 12 minutes or roast 25 minutes at 375 degrees F.
  • Add thinly sliced ripe pears (or grilled pears) and toasted walnuts to a vinaigrette-dressed salad.
  • For duck or pork, sweeten a traditional red-wine sauce with pear nectar.
  • Add some chopped pear, nutmeg, and raisins to oatmeal as it cooks.
  • Make classic poached pears: Bring 2 cups of red wine and 2/3 cup of sugar to a boil with a cinnamon stick and some lemon zest. Add 2 pounds of peeled, sliced ripe pears and simmer until soft, about 1/2 hour to 1 hour. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature, with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired, and garnished with a mint sprig. You can't go wrong.

But perhaps the best thing to do with pears is to serve them very ripe with blue cheese in lieu of dessert. Serve them with a sweet wine, such as Sauternes, to round out the experience.

Poached Pears With Fresh Ginger

This do-ahead dessert, with only 5 ingredients, is fat-free. I love the sweet and slightly spicy taste of the poaching liquid.

8 firm but ripe Bartlett or Bosc pears (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches)
2 strips orange peel (about 3" by 1" each)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut crosswise into 16 thin slices

1. Peel pears. With melon baller or small knife, remove core and blossom end (bottom) of each pear.

2. In 6- or 8-quart Dutch oven, place all ingredients and 6 cups water; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 10 to 20 minutes, until pears are tender. With slotted spoon, transfer pears to large bowl.

3. Heat pear poaching liquid to boiling over high heat; cook, uncovered, over high heat about 15 minutes or until syrup is reduced to about 3 cups.

4. Gently pour hot syrup through strainer over pears. To syrup around pears, return cinnamon stick, orange-peel strips, and 3 slices ginger. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or until pears are well-chilled, turning pears occasionally. Serve pears with syrup.

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