Pears are the less glamorous cousin of the apple. In the same family as the apple, along with roses and quince, pears have been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia, are referenced in Roman and Celtic texts and are thought to possibly date back to the Stone Age. Popular in Britain and France where they were beloved for their use in perry (pear cider), the first pears were cultivated in North America in 1620. Pears were originally eaten cooked, not raw (they were probably closer to a quince), until the 18th century when they were cultivated to have the soft, juicy and buttery flesh that we know today.
There are over 130 varieties of pears grown in Canada, but here in Ontario, there are five major varieties that are grown for sale; Bartlett, Clapp’s Favourite, Anjou, Bosc and Flemish Beauty. Growers hope that a new variety, Harovin Sundown, will eventually be added to that list, although it will be 2015 before the pears will be widely available in stores.
When the CanGro canning facility in St. David’s Ontario shut down in June 2008, many farmers with pear orchards (as well as peach growers) began destroying their crops because there was no major buyer for their products. Various campaigns to encourage Ontarians to purchase Ontario pears have had some effect, but most supermarkets do not carry Ontario pears beyond the growing season of August to October. Some varieties, such as Forelles are associated with countries like Italy or Belgium, but many of the pears in supermarkets (many of which are the same varieties that are grown in Ontario) come from China, Mexico or the US.
So, obviously, when you’re buying pears, hit the farmers markets and buy Ontario product whenever possible, otherwise we run the risk of even more pear farmers destroying their orchards because they just can’t find enough buyers for their fruit.
When purchasing pears, look for firm fruit that are not too hard. The appearance of the fruit will vary by variety, but look for smooth unblemished skin with no obvious flaws or punctures. Ripen pears at room temperature. Remember that pears ripen from the core outward, so to check your pears for ripeness, gently squeeze the neck of the pear as opposed to the rounder bottom.
Pears are high in fibre and Vitamin C, and are thought to be hypo-allergenic – that is, they’re one of the foods that people are least likely to be allergic to. As such, they’re often one of the first foods fed to babies.
Cook pears in the same way you would apples (ie. pies, tarts, muffins) or pair them with blue cheese and nuts for a classic snack. Pears also preserve quite well. If you’re into canning, poach and preserve some. I’ve had great success poaching and then freezing pears for use during the winter months.
Poached Pears In Phyllo
from Tawfik Shehata, executive chef, Vertical Restaurant
4 bosc pears, peeled, cored & tops cut off, only wide middle section used
1 cup white wine
1 cup sugar, plus 1 tbsp
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 star anise
4 sheets phyllo
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 slices sponge cake
4 dark chocolate truffles
In a small non-reactive pan (only big enough to hold the pears in a single layer) combine sugar, wine, vanilla, star anise and salt. Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar and set aside.
Place pears in syrup and cover with parchment paper. Bring to a boil and simmer until pears are tender when pierced with a knife. Approximately 20mins. Remove from syrup and drain on paper towel.
Cut the sponge cake into rounds with a cutter that is the same size as the pears.
Lay one sheet of phyllo on your work surface, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Lay another sheet of phyllo on top and repeat until all four sheets are used. Cut into four equal squares.
Lay one round of sponge cake in the centre of each phyllo square, place pear on top and push a truffle into the middle of the pear. take the four corners of the phyllo and pinch them together to form a “beggars purse.”
Refrigerate until ready for use. Pre-heat oven to 350.
Bake pears until phyllo is golden, approximately 10mins.
Caution chocolate is very hot!
Poached Pears in Red Wine
We have poached pears for Thanksgiving dessert every year. It’s a nice, light, seasonal dish after all that turkey and stuffing. This recipe is modified from a version on About.com.
4-6 firm pears, peeled and cored
1-1/2 cups of red wine (recommend Zinfandel, Shiraz or Merlot) or cranberry juice
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons of lemon juice (can also add lemon zest if desired)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
4 cardamom pods
Combine all ingredients, except pears, and bring to a boil. Once the wine mixture is boiling, turn heat down to a simmer and add the pears. Simmer pears for 10-12 minutes and then turn pears and simmer for an additional 8-10 minutes – until they are tender and are easily poked through with a fork. Remove pears and let them cool. Boil wine sauce until the liquid has been reduced by half. Pour sauce over pears and serve with either marscapone, crème fraiche or Devonshire cream.