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Perfect for pears

Wed., Sept. 26, 2007

Count the pear among the pleasures of autumn. Consider the Seckel – small, russet kissed and sweet. Perfect fit for a child’s lunch, or preserved whole in showy jars. Or the Bosc, with its rustic brown hues and slender neck. Its firm flesh and appealing appearance, the Bosc is ideal for poaching in red wine or other favorite liquids such as ciders with zest from an orange.

We’re fortunate in the Northwest. Our orchardists from Green Bluff and the Columbia and Yakima River valleys, to the Rogue River region in southern Oregon have taken advantage of the volcanic soil, ample water, warm days and cool nights to grow enough pears to feed the country’s appetite.

Washington grows more than half of the all the pears served on salads, baked into deserts or ripened on the counter and eaten through Christmas in the United States. Add Oregon to the mix and more than 8-in-10 pears grew on a Northwest tree.

It is a $143 million industry grown in the shadow of apples that’s on full display at groceries and farmers’ markets right now.

The Pear Bureau Northwest enjoys reminding people that Greek poet Homer lauded the fruit a “gift of the gods.”

Artists of the Renaissance put pears on their canvas in well-known still-life paintings. Children and choirs have sung of pears for two centuries worth of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they,” said Jeff Herman of Cliffside Orchards, who grows and sells organic pears across the region. You’ll find the orchard at Kettle Falls, Wash., with booths at farmers’ markets in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, where in the fall the growers sell hard green Anjou pears, sometimes called winter pears, and dole out advice about storing and ripening to buyers who buy enough to enjoy in some cases into the spring.

Pears do have a downside. Sometimes the texture is mealy and the flavor bland. It means the fruit was picked too late.

Remember, picking pears is tricky. It’s a fruit that is best picked before ripened on the tree, say experts. And sometimes cutting into that beautiful pear reveals disappointment: a rotten core. That’s a symptom of being stored too long.

At our house eating pears has moved well beyond the popular Bartlett. Since most canned pears are Bartletts, we choose other varieties for fall and winter eating, though most don’t often make it to the oven or the stove top.

Instead they are ripened in a basket with the best of intentions, yet within reach of a 4-year-old and promptly eaten out of hand as a healthy snack. Those left provide a satisfying adult treat anytime, sliced and served with a crumble of gorgonzola and walnuts.

Though often prepared with sugars and butter into warm deserts, pears can be offered in savory and main dishes.

Chronicle Books published a little cookbook simply called “Pears” 11 years ago by author Linda West Eckhardt. It shares recipes for pear and chicken teriyaki, and scallops and pears dish with a lemon-vodka sauce; and a brunch worthy bread pudding with pears mixing with cayenne pepper, mint and grated Parmesan cheese.

Beyond the cookbooks, an aunt collects the fruit from trees on her Peone Prairie farm and makes pear butter. A co-worker has shared his South Hill backyard harvest. A Millwood friend talks of his wife’s signature Amaretto pears, a jarred delicacy their teen daughter proffers as “alcoholic pears” to her friends.

Pears are versatile, delicious and local. Most importantly, they’re available now.

Bread Stuffing with Pears, Bacon, Caramelized Onions

From the Inland Northwest Pear Bureau

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

10 cups unseasoned dry bread cubes

8 ounces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/4 pounds frozen pearl onions, thawed and blotted dry

1 tablespoon golden brown sugar

3 firm but ripe Bosc or Anjou pears, peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, and cut into 3/4-inch dice

3 large ribs celery, chopped

2/3 cup minced fresh parsley

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh sage

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

4 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a deep, 9-by-13-inch baking pan with the butter. Place the bread cubes in a very large mixing bowl. In a 10-inch sauté pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, drain the bacon and add to the bread in the bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan, reserving the extra. Add the onions to the pan and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over the onions and sauté, stirring constantly, until the onions turn golden and the edges caramelize, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add to the bread.

Return the pan to medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat and swirl to coat the pan. Add the pears and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the parsley, thyme, sage, salt and a few grinds of pepper, and sauté 1 minute longer. Add this mixture to the bread cubes, and stir to combine. Add the beaten eggs and stock to the bowl, and mix well. Place the stuffing in the prepared pan and bake, uncovered, until the top is lightly browned and crusty, about 1 hour.

Yield: 12 servings

Nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.

Pear-Cranberry Crisp

From “Pears” (Eckhardt, Chronicle Books)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 cup dried cranberries

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 pounds ripe Bosc, Seckel or Anjou pears, cored, peeled, and chopped (4 cups)

1/4 cup cranberry juice

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter, chopped into bits

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 9-inch square baking dish with vegetable-oil cooking spray and set aside.

Combine the flour, brown sugar and oats in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, toss the cranberries with the cinnamon, coves, and nutmeg. Stir each mixture well.

Stir the cranberry mixture in with the pears, then arrange the fruit at the bottom of the baking pan and pour the juice over the fruit. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the mixture over the fruit.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes, or until bubbly and brown. Remove to a rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Serve warm with ascoop of ice cream.

Yield: 9 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 223 calories, 6 grams fat (3 grams saturated, 23 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrate, 14 milligrams cholesterol, 3.6 grams dietary fiber, 58 milligrams sodium.

Pear Clafouti

From Jeanette Herman, Cliffside Orchards. This is a traditional French dessert resembling a sweet pancake with fruit.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (for greasing the bottom of the pan)

1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for coating pan

4 pears, peeled, halved, and cored

3 eggs

1/3 cup unbleached white flour

3/4 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a dish about 9-by-5-by-2-inches or a 10-inch round deep pie plate; sprinkle with sugar, then invert to remove the excess. Lay the pears in one layer, cored side down.

Beat eggs until foamy. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat with whisk until thick and foamy.

Add flour and beat until thick and smooth. Add the cream, milk, vanilla and salt.

Pour the batter over the pears. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the clafouti is nicely browned and knife inserted into center that comes out clean. If desired, sift with confectioner’s sugar. Serve warm or room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 248 calories, 12.4 grams fat (6.9 grams saturated, 44 percent fat calories), 4.5 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrate, 115 milligrams cholesterol, 1.9 grams dietary fiber, 44 milligrams sodium.


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