Pick a Pear
The ubiquitous canned pear, while sweet and juicy, still isn’t in the same league as a fresh pear. One of our fall and winter fruit wonders, pears ripen in fall and are stored for distribution throughout the year. Tennessee doesn’t even register on the U.S. commercial pear production list (Oregon and Washington produce more than 80 percent of the country’s pears), yet you’ll still find local pears, here, and it’s worth the effort to enjoy them fresh.
Enjoyed since prehistoric times, pears dominate still-life paintings and feast-day tables. Homer referred to pears as “a gift of the gods.”
Sweet, crisp flesh that is similar but so different from an apple makes pears a treat on their own, paired with pork or sharing the stage with a strong cheese. Resist the urge to overpower them with cinnamon, but don’t be afraid to punch them up with a pinch of cardamom or fresh ginger.
There are about 3,000 known varieties of pears grown worldwide. Use the firm varieties, such as Bosc, Anjou, and Concorde, for cooking. For Yellow Bartlett, Red Bartlett, and Comice, they are best eaten raw.
Pears do not ripen on the tree; they ripen at room temperature after they are picked. Do not refrigerate an unripe pear or it will remain rock hard. Pears are one of the fruits that ripen from the inside out. How do you know when it’s ready to eat? Check the neck. Gently press your thumb where the stem meets the flesh. If it gives with the pressure, you’re ready to go. If the flesh at the neck is hard, give it a day or two on your countertop.
Pear trees grow well here. Plant the trees in winter or early spring while the plants are dormant. It may take a few years to bear fruit, but the best things always do.
The U.S. Agricultural Marketing Service estimates that 40 percent of the U.S. pear crop ends up canned or processed as juice. That’s too bad, because nothing beats biting into a fresh pear.
PEAR, BRIE, AND POTATO PIZZA
- 2 small red potatoes, sliced 1/4” thick
- Pre-made pizza crust
- Olive oil
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
- 1 pear, cored and thinly sliced (you can
- peel or not, as you prefer)
- salt and pepper
- 8–10 thin slices of brie cheese (it’s easier to slice when it’s cold)
In a small saucepan, add potato slices and cover with water. Over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer and cook until potatoes are just tender. It only takes a few minutes. Drain and reserve.
Place pizza crust on a baking sheet. Lightly brush crust with olive oil. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Layer potatoes and pear slices. Season with salt and pepper. Top with brie slices and bake at 375° until cheese melts and starts to bubble.
- 3 pounds of pears (Bosc, Anjou, or Concorde), peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar (optional)
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cover pears with just enough water to prevent sticking. Simmer until tender. Using a food processor (or potato masher if you like it chunky), puree pears. Return pear puree to saucepan and add 1/4 cup of sugar per pound of fruit (or to taste — I like to make this without any sugar at all). Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved and desired consistency is reached. Cool and refrigerate, covered, for up to one week.
Optional spices: You can add ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom or ginger (start with 1/4 teaspoon per three pounds of fruit) to the sauce during the last few minutes of cooking.