Monday, December 2, 2013

The Fruit Plate: Pears

On coming back cheerful and satisfied from the theater with a huge pear for his wife in his hand, [Oblonsky] had not, to his surprise, found her in the drawing room or in his study, but finally saw her in her bedroom holding the unlucky note that had revealed everything.

---Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, chapter 1

In a previous post I talked about how much I prize fruit as a dessert. It works for us because it's easy to prepare, inexpensive, healthy, and best of all (to my way of thinking), seasonal. As I write this, it is the second day of December. The Macoun apples that I so anticipate every year have started to taste a little mealy; I've started using Braeburns when I want apples for raw eating. Braeburns have a good flavor and do not turn brown when cut, a critical point when there are reluctant fruit eaters in one's household.

Still, there comes a point in the year---rapidly approaching, I'd say---at which one gets tired of apples. As the apple appeal fades, pears start to arrive on the scene. Pears, high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, may not be enough to appease a wronged wife, but they certainly do, as Diner #2 would say, "step up" to save the winter fruit plate from being bullied into nonexistence. Here are a few of the most commonly seen heroes.

Boscs, with their elongated shape, russet skin, and melting flesh, are a good all-purpose pear, but they seem to be most in their element when poached in sweet wine and spices for an elegant dessert. If Ingres had wanted to paint a pear reclining on a sofa, he would surely have chosen a Bosc.

Bartletts, whether the pale yellow-green or red varieties, are delicious for raw eating, especially in salads. I love the contrast of the red Bartlett with cheese (Gorgonzola Dolce is my favorite for this purpose) and nuts.

I haven't had good luck with the Anjou variety; the Anjous I've tasted have been too grainy, but people with access to better ones like them very much indeed for both raw and cooked eating. Anjous are pale green and do not change color when they ripen.

Tiny Seckels will absolutely make any fruit platter as people lean over and say, "What's that?" That is a cute and super-sweet pear worth seeking out for fresh eating. They can also be pickled or used as a garnish.

Forelle pears are a tiny, spicy, delicious fruit with freckles like those of a trout (hence the name). Forelles are a little harder to locate and all the more charming because of it; if you find some, pounce.

As for picking them out, pears are supposed to be harvested unripe. If you press the pear's flesh near the stem and it gives, it is ready to eat. Now. Another day could mean mush time. Otherwise, just leave an unripe pear to ripen at room temperature on the countertop. Some varieties have a good scent when they're ready, others are more reticent about this. That's how it is with pears: each, like a good novel, ripens in its own way.

Copyright (c) 2016 Anna Bendiksen