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Autumn fruit: sweet, juicy pears

To early Americans, pears were nearly as important as apples. The sweet fruit was eaten, the wood was valued for furniture and tools, and the leaves produced a yellow dye.

Although pears are available all year long, different varieties are harvested at different times. Autumn is the best time for the widest selection. You can catch the end of the Bartlett season, and the beginning of several others: Anjou , Bosc, Comice and Seckel.

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Bartletts, known as summer pears, are the most popular all-purpose pear, with thin yellow skin which may have a blush when ripe. They are sweet and juicy, best for out-of-hand eating.

Anjous are globular in shape, with a sweet spicy flavor, particularly suited for cooking. Bosc pears are favored for desserts, because of their attractive long, tapered neck, russet colored skin, and sweet, buttery taste.

Another good dessert pear is the Comice, almost round in shape, with greenish yellow skin, sometimes russeted. They have a sweet, aromatic flavor. Seckels are small, heart-shaped pears with a brownish-red skin and granular, but very juicy flesh. They are often used for spiced pears.

If you enjoy fruit and cheese together, Roquefort, feta, and cream cheese seem to combine best with the sweetness of a ripe pear. They are also delicious baked in desserts, pies, and coffeecakes - here are some recipes for you to try.

Pear Chiffon Pie

1 envelope unflavored gelatine

3/4 cup sugar, divided

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1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 cups pear puree, recipe follows

3 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Gingersnap crust, recipe follows

Pear Puree

Combine 6 cored and sliced pears, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/4 cup water in saucepan. Simmer until tender. Puree in blender or food processor or sieve through strainer. Cool, Makes about 4 cups.

Gingersnap Crust

Combine 3/4 cup gingersnap crumbs, 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs, 1 or 2 teaspoons grated orange peel and 1/4 cup softened butter. Reserve 3 tablespoons crumb mixture for garnish. Press remainder into buttered 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 7 to 9 minutes. Cool.

To make pie filling, combine gelatine, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, and spices in saucepan. Stir in pear puree and egg yolks. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils and gelatine dissolves. Remove from heat; chill till partially set.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites and 1/2 cup whipped cream into pear mixture.

Mound mixture into gingersnap crust. Chill until firm. Garnish with remaining 1/2 cup whipped cream. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs.

Pear Crisp

4 cups pears, sliced

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

Place pears in 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking pan. Mix water and lemon juice. Pour over pears. Mix sugar, flour, oats, and spices. Add margarine or butter to dry mixture. Mix until crumbly. Sprinkle crumbly mixture evenly over pears.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes until pears are tender and topping is lightly browned.

Pear Ginger Coffee Cake

2 fresh pears

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon each lemon and orange peel, grated

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

11/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup shortening, melted

3/4 teaspoon salt

Halve and core pears. Cut into wedges. Melt butter in bottom of 8-inch round cake pan. Arrange pear wedges over bottom in spiral pattern.

Combine brown sugar, ginger, and orange and lemon peels. Sprinkle half of mixture over pears.

Beat egg, shortening, and milk together. Sift flour with sugar, baking powder , and salt. Add to egg mixture, stirring just until blended. Pour over pears.

Sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture over top. Marble through batter with knife.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before inverting onto plate. Serve warm. Serves 6.

Pear Butter

11/2 pound Bartlett pears, unpeeled, cored, and sliced

1/3 cup sugar, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Dash ground nutmeg, cloves, and allspice

Combine pears and sugar in heavy pot over low heat. When sugar dissolves bring mixture to a boil. Cook 5 minutes or until fruit is tender. Cool slightly. Put into blender. Chop on low speed 2 seconds. Mixture should not be smooth.

Return mixture to pot. Add spices. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat but keep it bubbling. Cook 5 to 8 minutes. Ladle into hot, sterilized screwtop jars. Store in refrigerator.

If storing longer than one week, seal jars by pouring melted hot parraffin over top. Makes 2 to 21/2 cups. Serve on bread, over waffles, or pancakes.

Sweet Pickled Pears

4 pounds Seckel pears

3 cups granulated sugar

11/2 cups brown sugar

2 cups cider vinegar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 tablespoon whole allspice

2 3-inch sticks cinnamon

Wash pears. Remove blossom ends and prick skins. Place pears in saucepan. Add enough water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Drain.

Combine sugars, vinegar, and 1 cup water. Add spices, tied in cheesecloth. Bring to boil. Add pears, and cook, covered 10 minutes.

For best flavor, cool and let stand overnight. Remove spices. Drain and pack pears into hot sterilized jars. Reheat syrup to boiling. Pour over pears. Seal. Makes 4 pints.

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