“The Healthy Gourmet”
September 23, 2010
Pears — With Autumn officially here we can look forward to ripe, sweet, and tasty pears. Pears hit their prime in early to mid-October so we should be seeing some great fresh fruits soon. Even though pears are coming in season, you will still find them to be hard and somewhat rock-like in the store: the reason for this is that pears must be harvested before they are fully ripe (still hard but easily snapped from the stem) because if they ripen on the tree the starches will crystallize and cause the flesh to be very gritty. Some grittiness is natural in pear flesh, and in fact that is a differentiation between pears and apples – pears have what is known as “stone cells” which cause that slight gritty texture in the flesh of pears, while the flesh of apples has a more smooth texture and consistency.
So if you have to buy pears when they are hard, how do you know when they are ripe? This is tricky because most pears do not change color as they ripen. Bartlett pears are on exception to this rule – they change from green to yellow as they ripen. But for other varieties, whose color does not change, the best way to test for ripeness is by feel –pears ripen from the inside out, so you have to feel the pear to see if the flesh yields to slight pressure. The best way to do this is to feel the flesh at the neck, or stem end, of the pear; if it yields to light pressure then the pear is ripe and if it feels firm the pear needs more time to ripen. Pears ripen at room temperature, and they will ripen faster if placed in a bowl with bananas. If you need to slow the ripening process or hold ripe pears, place them in the refrigerator.
Pears and apples and quince are all related, being a part of the rose family. Here’s a fun piece of trivia on apples and pears: when placed carefully in water, apples will float and pears will sink! So don’t try to pull “bobbing for pears” on your kids unless they can hold their breath!
Our friends at Wikipedia share some interesting facts about pears: the wood from pear trees is one of the preferred materials to make woodwind instruments, and pear leaves were smoked in Europe before tobacco was introduced. And on a less glamorous note, Wiki shares with us that the fiber in pears in mostly insoluble, making pears a good laxative.
Ok, enough of pear facts and trivia and on to some great pear recipes!
Blue Cheese Pears with Candied Walnuts (an appetizer for 6 to 8)
4 ripe pears
1 wedge blue cheese crumbled
Toasted walnuts (recipe follows)
Slice whole pears in 1/4 inch slices from the stem end down toward the base and then half those slices, cutting off area were the seeds are. Sprinkle a few crumbles of blue cheese on each slice. Press a candied walnut on each of the pear slices. Serve as is or drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar.
2 T butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups raw walnut halves
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a bowl, combine butter and sugar. Add walnuts to bowl and stir to coat. Spread walnuts out on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes. Walnuts should be nicely toasted but not burned – watch them closely! Immediately move the walnuts to a cool pan or plate large enough for the walnuts to be in a single layer – the walnuts will cook a bit longer after they come out of the oven so it is important to get them off the hot pan to keep them from being burned/over done.
Sprinkle the walnuts with salt and cool completely.
Poached Pears with Fudge Serves 6
8 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
6 Bosc or Bartlett pears
1 cup hot fudge, warmed
Mix water, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Peel pears and put in hot liquid; simmer gently until pears are tender, about 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a rack to cool. Cool cooking liquid separately.
Serve 1/4 cup cooled cooking liquid with each pear in a small bowl or ramekin. Top each pear with fudge (sort of drizzle the fudge down from the top of the pear) and enjoy!