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Fresh pears with ham, cranberries

Fresh pears are favorites for juicy, delicious, out-of-hand eating. They are also wonderful when baked, stuffed, stewed, and in salads, preserves, and pies. Although the Bartlett pear is one of the most popular, its fresh season is limited to July through October. Much of the crop is canned, however, and canned Bartletts are of excellent quality.

But the Anjou and Bosc are available now. The Anjou is large with a green or yellowish-green skin and has a spicy sweet flavor.

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The Bosc has a long tapering neck, its dark greenish-yellow to brownish-yellow skin overlaid with cinnamon-colored russeting. The flesh is yellow-white and is very juicy and buttery in texture. It is in best supply in October through early spring.

The comice pear, sweet and juicy, is famous as the holiday gift pear. And the small brownish-yellow seckel pear is a fall favorite and has a sweet, spicy flavor.

When purchasing pears, those that are big and plump are preferable. Minor surface blemishes or russeting on the skin is natural and even characteristic of certain varieties.

It doesn't affect the delicate taste. In fact, some of the most russeted pears have been found to be the most luscious.

Since pears are picked when mature but not ripe, they must be ripened at home at room temperature. A fruit bowl is perfect for this purpose, or they can be stored in a plastic bag with a few holes for adequate circulation.

When ripe, they will be firm and yield slightly to gentle pressure at the stem end. After they are ripe, keep them cold and humid and use them as soon as possible.

For cooking or baking, they should be firm and slightly underripe. Since they ripen from the inside out, they should not be kept until soft on the outside.

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The skin is often so thin and tender that paring isn't necessary for most uses. To prevent discoloration once cut or peeled, dip in water mixed with ascorbic acid, citrus juice, or salt. When coring, it may be easy to use a pear slicer or melon baller, or one-half teaspoon measure.

Here are some ideas for serving:

Halve and core fresh pears and fill with cottage cheese, dates, and nuts, or a mixture of diced fresh fruits and whipped cream.

Make a pear ambrosia with diced pears and orange sections. Sprinkle with grated fresh coconut and serve as a salad or dessert.

To bake pears, core and peel a 1-inch strip at the top, fill with fruit, and bake. Serve hot.

Fresh pears and apples poached together in a syrup made with equal parts of sugar and water and fresh lemon juice to taste make a delightful dessert or meat accompaniment.

A famous continental dessert is to fill poached fresh pear halves with vanilla ice cream and top with warm bittersweet chocolate sauce.

For a special treat try the French custom of serving fresh pears with a wedge of fragrant cheese. Camembert cheese goes particularly well with pears.

One final hint: Serve pears cool but not icy. If they are too cold, they lack some of their bouquet; if too warm, they are not as refreshing as when cool.

For some delicious ways to use pears, try the following recipes. Rosy Baked Pears and Ham 3 fresh pears 1 cup canned whole berry cranberry sauce 1 teaspoon grated orange rind 1/4 cup orange juice Dash salt 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine 1/4 cup roasted diced almonds Baked ham

Pare, halve, and core pears; place cut sides up in baking dish.

Mix together all remaining ingredients except ham; spoon into pear halves, pouring liquid over and around pears. Cover dish tightly and bake in 350 degree F. oven 30 to 35 minutes.

Serve warm as an accompaniment for baked ham. Makes 6 servings. Fresh Pear Butter 5 medium-sized pears, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups) 3/4 cup sugar 1 stick (3-inch) cinnamon 1/4 cup chopped almonds 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Combine pears, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water in saucepan. Heat to boiling point over medium heat.

Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cinnamon stick and simmer 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove cinnamon stick. Remove pear mixture from heat. Mash until smooth. Stir in almonds and lemon juice.

Cook over low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until consistency of thick applesauce.

Chill. Serve with bread or toast. Makes about 2 cups. Pear-Cranberry Compote 2 cups fresh cranberries 1 cup fresh orange juice 1 cup sugar 4 large fresh pears

Combine cranberries, orange juice, and sugar in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until berries start to pop. Simmer 3 minutes.

Pour into shallow baking pan. Halve, pare, and core pears. Place in orange-cranberry mixture.

Cover and bake in 350 degree F. oven about 30 minutes or until pears are just tender, turning once.

Serve warm or cold as an accompaniment for poultry. Makes 8 servings.

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