Pear Moves West
It is believed that the pear originated in Asia and gradually made its way to The Old World–Europe and Africa. As the pear reached Europe, it was widely accepted as a delicacy. Interestingly, it was also accepted as the fruit of choice for masterpiece artists’ painting still life scenes, due to its unique shape and silhouette. Some say the French brought the pear to the States, and others claim it was the Belgians. Nonetheless, at that time, pears were considered a valuable commodity among the trading routes. Eventually, in the 1800’s, the pear tree was brought to Oregon and Washington where now over 80% of the nation’s pears are harvested.
The European culinary community was wild about the pear and began to experiment with the beautiful fruit. The beauty of the pear is that it has a delicious, buttery flavor, medium texture, and a long storage life. Today, pears are incorporated into salads, presented on cheese boards, and served as dessert.
Pears are naturally sodium, gluten, fat, and cholesterol-free. A medium-sized pear has about 100 calories and is very high in Vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. Vitamin C is essential for cell growth and repair, maintaining metabolism, and promoting healing. There are about 190 grams of potassium in a medium-sized pear. Potassium assists in maintaining blood pressure, alleviating muscle cramps, and regulating water in the body. Pears contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, roughly about 24% of daily recommended values. Fiber is important in the diet because it aids in both digestion and elimination. Because pears are a nutrient dense food, high in fiber and water, they provide us with a feeling of satiety, or fullness.
Pears are categorized as summer or winter varieties. Summer varieties are harvested in August; winter varieties are harvested from late August through October. There are roughly ten varieties of pears that are popular in the United States. These varieties are: Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Seckel, and Starkrimson. While all pears are naturally sweet, some are sweeter than others. The sweetest pear is Comice. Bartlett, Starkrimson, and Concord follow in a second group of being very sweet and juicy; however, the Concorde is sweet and crisp. The next group includes the Anjou, Bosc, and Seckel. This group is relatively sweet; the Bosc and Seckel are more crisp than juicy. The Forelle pear is the least sweet and somewhat crispy.
Asian pears are rounder than the varieties mentioned here and are much more crispy and crunchy, like an apple. For this reason, most salads feature Asian pears ,usually accompanied with bleu or gorgonzola cheese and walnuts.
Selection and Preparation
When selecting a pear, it is recommended to “check the neck™”, according to the USA Pears organization. Gently squeeze the neck of the pear; if it yields to pressure, it is ripe. Most of the pears in the supermarkets are not ripe because pears don’t ripen on the tree. They are hand picked, bathed in cool water, and shipped to grocers. The pear ripens after it has been picked. The best way to quickly ripen a pear is to wrap it in a brown paper bag and let it sit at room temperature or, place it on the counter next to a banana. Both methods create a gas, ethylene, that assists in speeding up the ripening process.
When choosing a pear to be prepared under heated conditions- baking, broiling, grilling, or poaching-it is best to use a firmer variety such as a Bosc, Concorde, or Anjou. These hold up well under heat and retain their shape, texture, and sweetness. Pears will brown once peeled, however, in order to reduce the oxidation process, put them in fresh lemon juice.
This recipe can be made ahead. Simply poach the pears in the liquid, remove pears and store them separately from the liquid. To serve, reheat liquid, place pears in hot liquid for 5 minutes, then serve. Save this recipe for the holidays, as the USDA has declared December to be “Pear Month.”
Poached Pears (serves 4)
2 medium Bosc pears, peeled and halved
2 cinnamon sticks
1 Tbsp of whole cloves
3 Tbsp of agave nectar
2 Tbsp of organic cane sugar or Turbinado sugar
1 vanilla bean
5-8 ounces of sweet red wine
1 cup dried fruit: cherries, cranberries, blueberries
1/2 orange, juiced
2 lemons, juiced
1-1½ cup water
- Squeeze lemon juice into bowl
- Core and peel pears; slice in half; place in lemon juice; toss to coat
- In a saucepan on medium-high heat, bring to boil water, wine, vanilla bean, sugar, agave nectar, orange juice, and spices
- Bring to boil for about two minutes; reduce heat medium
- Place pears in poaching liquid uncovered for 20-25 minutes, or until soft
- Gently remove pears with slotted spoon and set aside
- Raise temperature of poaching liquid to medium-high heat; add dried fruit; allow to reduce and thicken
- Once poaching liquid has reduced, remove cloves and cinnamon
- Plate pears and pour poaching liquid over pears
- Serving suggestion: serve with a scoop of Marscapone cheese or top with candied walnuts
- Organic pears are recommended
- Consider this recipe as a breakfast dish; simply add granola or yogurt
- Substitute wine with cider, apple juice or a cranberry blended juice
- Moscato wine was used in this recipe; a Beaujolais works well, too
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