ILLUSTRATION BY EDGAR STEWART
Pears require a bit of advance planning. They only ripen off the tree at room temperature, so those cold, hard supermarket fruits are never ready to eat the day you buy them. Cut a pear too early and the flesh will be acidic with crunch like an apple. Wait too long and its expected silken texture will have turned to a mealy mush. It’s a delicate balance, and requires some patience and know-how.
So think ahead and arrange your pears in a pretty bowl on the counter for a few days. They’ll be ready to eat when the stem area gives ever so slightly under a pressing thumb, a neat trick with its own slogan—“Check the Neck”—coined by the Oregon-based U.S. Pear Bureau.
It’s true that the vast majority of U.S.–grown pears come from the Pacific Northwest, but there are plenty of local pick-your-own orchards and Massachusetts growers bringing their harvest to farmers markets and specialty shops. Use the handy Local Food Directory at farmfresh.org to find a farm near you, and get cooking!
Pears’ delicate flavor makes them a perfect dessert all on their own: A ripe Comice pear, peeled and cored and served in all its slippery sweetness is a thing of beauty. But all that natural sweetness begs for a bit of acid and salt, and pears’ affinity to pungent cheeses, nuts, citrus zest and sharp mustardy spice make them the perfect fall-into-winter fruit. Here are a few ways to enjoy local pears this season:
• Make an easy, savory pear-cheese-pecan tart that reheats beautifully and can easily stand in as a vegetarian main course at the holidays. Fit a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a rolled out pâte brisee (either homemade or store-bought) and tuck the edges under to reinforce the crust. Sauté the white and light green parts of 1 well-cleaned leek and spread on the bottom of the unbaked crust. Dot with 4 ounces of local blue cheese then arrange 1 cored, thinly sliced pear in a circle, overlapping if needed. Whisk together 2 eggs, ½ cup heavy cream, some fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg; pour over the pears. Sprinkle with chopped pecans and bake in a 400° oven 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake an additional 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
• Both pears and scallops love rosemary, lemon and butter, so why not put them together? Using either plump sea scallops or tiny, tender Nantucket Bays, dry the shellfish very well and season with grated lemon zest, salt, pepper and minced rosemary. Toss 2 cored, sliced pears with the same ingredients plus a drizzle of olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of butter, then roast in a 400° oven, stirring every now and then until lightly browned. Sprinkle pears with lemon juice and a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, stir and return to the oven until the juices are syrupy. Next, sear the scallops on both sides in olive oil and butter, adding a minced shallot and a tablespoon of lemon juice just before they’ve finished cooking. Serve the scallops on a bed of the pear slices with the juices drizzled on top. Some fresh thyme or minced parsley adds a little green to an otherwise white-on-white dish.
• Crostini with mustard-roasted pears and mascarpone are a delightful little bite on a passed hors d’oeuvres tray, and so simple to prepare. First, toss very thinly sliced pears (skin on) with a blend of Dijon mustard, a splash of cider vinegar, grated garlic, fresh thyme, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast in a single layer in a hot oven until browned at the edges. Then spread toasted baguette slices with mascarpone and top with a roasted pear. Garnish with more fresh thyme or some chopped almonds.
• Crunchy Asian pears and roasted Chioggia beets make a colorful salad when tossed with toasted hazelnuts, orange zest and parsley to serve alongside rich autumnal meats like duck
or goose. Dice a peeled Asian pear and toss with a Dijon-style vinaigrette, some cubed roasted beets, the zest of 1 orange, 1 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves and 1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts. Add crumbled goat feta if you like.
• This Thanksgiving, try a simple one-cheese board with pickled pears. Make it easy on yourself (and lighter on your guests) and serve just one large wedge of really good New England cheese, either before the meal or alongside the pies. You can pickle the pears up to a week before the holiday: Simmer whole winter spices (think cinnamon, cloves, star anise) and mustard seeds in equal parts vinegar, brown sugar and water, then pour over peeled, sliced pears and allow to macerate in the fridge for at least one day (but up to a month). Serve with oatcakes, toasted walnuts and either aged cheddar, a strong blue or ripe, runny goat.
Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, vegetable gardener and managing editor of Edible Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org