Naturally healthful, pears add subtly sweet and savory nuances to recipes.
As warm winds give way to cold breezes, chefs thoughts turn to cooking with winter fruits and vegetables. Squash, potatoes, apples and pumpkin are high on the list of seasonal ingredients. But chefs should consider the pear for even more sweet menu versatility.
The humble pear, simple in shape and sweet in flavor, has been regarded as the fruit of royalty throughout history. Originating in the Middle East, pears were cultivated more than 4,000 years ago. The delicate fruit made its way to Greece, China, Egypt, Rome then finally to France.
Early colonists brought pear tree cuttings with them to the East Coast, using their fruit for eating, baking and cider making, their wood for furniture and their leaves for a deep yellow dye. However, all of these pear trees were decimated by the dreaded fire blight. Fortunately the pear was also introduced to Mexico, Peru and Chile by the Spanish and later brought to the California Missions.
Cooking with Pears
Fresh pears appeal to chefs for their rich, yet subtle color tones, the sophistication of their shape and their wonderful flavor complexity. Imported pears, coming from such far away places as Latin America, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, allow chefs to cook with them year round.
Canned pears afford both noncommercial and commercial chefs a handy way to add subtle sweetness and "buttery" texture to many dishes–from breakfast muffins and smoothies to salads, sandwiches, entrees and of course dessert.
Pears are also good for you. One medium-large pear has only 70 calories and is high in potassium. And although they are relatively low in fiber, unpeeled pears are good sources of vitamin C.
Natural spice affinities include cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice and curry. Savory herb companions include mint, tarragon, chives, cilantro and rosemary. Other pleasant flavor matches include orange, almond, lemon, rum and balsamic vinegar. Almost all pears cook well, becoming creamy and mellow with heat. Follow this simple guide for best results:
Baked halved pears–1 hour at 350°F or 45 minutes if covered;
Poached whole pears–15-20 minutes in simple syrup, juice or sweetened wine;
Sautéed sliced pears–2-5 minutes in butter.
Raw pears–work well in salads, sandwiches, salsas, relishes and chutneys, with a little acid added to keep the slices from oxidizing.
Now is the time to indulge in the royal pleasures of what Homer so aptly called "the food of the gods." Don’t miss the opportunity to incorporate the delectable pear to your autumn menus! fm
Gwen Kvavli Gulliksen is the division vice president of Pro*Act Specialties, a California-based fresh produce supplier.