The subtle but rich flavor of pears makes them the perfect culinary partner.
By Lisa James
Fall offers a bounty of ripening produce, and among the most popular is the pear. This fruit’s dense, juicy sweetness makes it suitable for out-of-hand eating and as a complement to other foods.
It is believed that wild pear forests dotted hillsides in ancient Europe, but breeding for specific traits didn’t begin in earnest until about 300 years ago. Of the thousands of named varieties that exist today, the following are most commonly found in US markets:
• Anjou—when ripe, its thin skin turns deep red and its flesh develops a creamy texture; when firm, it can be baked, braised, grilled or poached.
• Bartlett—these thin-necked pears have an intensely floral aroma when ripe; often used in baked goods.
• Bosc—the grainy flesh of this brown-skinned pear remains firm when ripe, making it good for cooking.
• Comice—this large-bodied pear is one of the sweetest, with a buttery texture; best eaten raw.
• Forelle—this small, round pear’s yellow skin develops red speckles as it ripens while keeping a crisp texture.
• Seckel—small and thick-skinned, with a deep red blush, this pear can be canned or even pickled.
Pears ripen after picking, when their starches convert to sugar. Bartletts will change from green to yellow; the others are ripe when they give to gentle pressure near the stem. Hold them at room temperature until completely ripe, then store in the refrigerator.
Pears and cheese go well together. Tasty matches include fruit and blue cheese, particularly when combined with walnuts in mixed green salads, or in salads with goat cheese; Boscs with cheddar; Bartletts with Gouda; and Seckels with Havarti. Pears also combine well with chocolate, and the crisper varieties can be sliced and used in sandwiches.
Pears contain considerable amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber. They also provide vitamins C and K along with the trace mineral copper.
In a bountiful season, pears add a tasty note to everything from appetizers to desserts.
California Pear Breakfast Strata
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
4 tbsp apricot jam
2 pears, halved, cored and thinly sliced
1 tbsp maple syrup
8 slices whole wheat bread
1/3 cup dried cranberries
4 tbsp sliced almonds
1. Lightly coat a medium-sized baking dish with olive oil.
2. Beat together eggs, milk and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir yogurt and jam together in a smaller bowl. Toss pear slices and maple syrup together in another small bowl.
3. Arrange a layer of bread slices on the bottom of the baking dish. Spoon half of the yogurt/jam mixture and then half of the pears on top, spreading them over the bread. Top with half of the cranberries and half of the almonds. Repeat, ending with almonds on top. Pour the egg mixture over the top, stopping to allow the bread to soak up the liquid. Cover loosely with foil and refrigerate overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove foil from dish and bake uncovered 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown (it will be very puffy). Let sit uncovered for several minutes before serving. (Syrup shown above is optional.)
Serves 6. Analysis per serving: 321 calories, 13g protein,
11g fat (3g saturated), 5g fiber, 45g carbohydrate, 295 mg sodium
Reprinted with permission of the California Pear Advisory Board (www.calpear.com)