The Pear: Oh Sweet and Savory Seductress

“There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear, when it is perfect to eat.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was recently seduced by a giant box of pears.

By Dana Zia
The Golightly Gourmet

Roasted honey pear salad

As I gazed lovingly at the box I could see canned whole pears, pear balsamic compote, pear cake and pear salads doing the can can on my counter.

I scooped it up and went home and spent DAYS processing those little sirens and wondered what I had I gotten myself into?

I was not the first one lured in as this has been happening to humankind for millenniums. In fact, it completely captured an ancient Chinese diplomat, Feng Li, who threw all responsibilities out the window and focused only on cultivating pears. That was over 7,000 years ago.

The pear had a difficult birth into the Americas where it was wiped out almost completely by blights, after been brought over by the early colonists. Then some optimistic pioneers carried pears seeds over the Oregon Trail and found that they thrived here. In fact, the Northwest is the only geographical area in the United States that produces perfect pears.  Also the pear is the official state fruit and #1 tree fruit crop in Oregon, rated 2nd producer in the nation, just behind Washington. What a unique distinction.

Another unique thing about pears are that they are one of the few fruits that must be picked unripe and then ripened off the tree so they don’t get mealy and grainy. (So that is why my pears off my tress were always terrible!)

There are more than 3,000 varieties of pears but a lot of them fell to the wayside with modern mega farming. But now with more demand and interest towards reviving heirloom varieties, more interesting types of pears are becoming.

I highly recommend trying as many as you can get your hands on. The varieties that are more available that you really must try are:
• The most well know, the Bartlett, which comes in red and yellow, is aromatic, very sweet and delicate. It is excellent for eating fresh and canning.
• The Anjou comes in both red and green and is known for its abundant juice and sweet flavor. They do not change colors when they are ripe, and are good for anything. (I mean anything!)
• Then the friendly Bosc pear, russet in color, has a dense flavorful flesh that is good for baking and cooking.
• Comice pears are harder to find but you will be rewarded by their ultra-juicy, sweet flesh. They are an elegant dessert pear and are excellent served with cheese.
• The Concorde pear is known for its elongated neck and firm dense flesh that has a vanilla undertone. It is great for baking, poaching or grilling.
• I really like the Forelle pears when I can get a hold of them, since their season is short. They have a firm flesh and the perfect flavor, not to sweet, not too grainy, and they are good to eat fresh or to cook with.

Here are a few very perfectly good pear tips;

• To easily core a pear, cut it in half and use a melon baler to take out the core. It works great and looks fantastic!
• To speed up the ripening process, store pears in a cool dry place with a ripe banana.
• Combine pears with gourmet cheeses (gorgonzola goes particularly well with pears) for an elegant and delicious appetizer or dessert.

The following recipe highlights the versatility of the pear to go either sweet or savory.  This meal is elegant enough for a special dinner and easy enough for every night. It has become my very favorite salad for the fall and will seduce you as well.

Roasted honey pear salad
This is a lovely salad that is dressy enough for special occasions. Use a melon baller to core the pears super easily. You can make the pears up to 2 days ahead of time and keep in the fridge for an easy assemblage.

The salad dressing
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of honey
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon of finely minced fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper

The salad
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
8 cups of fresh spinach, stemmed if needed
4 cups of arugula (optional)
2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

The pears
2 firm but ripe pears (do not peel), halved, cored
A handful of fresh rosemary sprigs, pulled into smaller pieces
¼ cup of honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, place the pear halves on a cutting board, cut side down. Starting 1 inch from the stem cut lengthwise into 1/3” to ½” inch thin slices till the whole thing is sliced. Scatter the rosemary sprigs on a lightly greased, rimmed baking sheet then place the pear halves on top of the sprigs. Carefully fan out the pear halves. (The first one is kinda hard, but you’ll get the hang of it.) Drizzle the honey over the pears and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the pears for 15 minutes or until just tender. Let them rest on the baking sheet till cool. (You can do this part a day ahead and store in the fridge till you use them.)

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a jar. Put the lid on and shake it up till well blended. Combine the spinach, arugula, onions and cranberries and toss with some of the dressing. Divvy out into four bowls and place one pear half on top of the greens mix. Sprinkle with the nuts and cheese and serve with the left over dressing. Magnifique!