|Pears on the Fall Table|
|Right Food for the Season - Late Fall|
|Written by Jane Ward|
For the past two weeks I have been working my way through a bushel bag of Cider Hill Farm’s McIntosh apples, which means lately we’ve been eating apples every which way: lunch bag apples, apple wedges with slices of sharp cheddar cheese, pork loin roasted with apples and red onions, and apple crisps and pies and turnovers. I do love these apples; I rarely tire of a peak season apple. But my favorite fall fruit is the pear.
My first taste of a fresh pear – soft to the bite, slightly gritty, but succulent with sweet juice – remains firmly lodged in my memory. You see, it was a pretty big deal to have fresh fruit at home, and yes, you heard that right: as a youngster I was fresh fruit-deprived. My mother loved canned fruit. She would be the first to tell you she was a lazy eater, especially where fruit was concerned. When faced with biting through a peel or paring one off, working around a core or spitting seeds or removing pits, my mother said “no thank you” to fresh and stuck to her canned goods. With few exceptions, we ate canned everything– pineapple, fruit cocktail, peaches, apricots, grapefruit, orange sections, and mandarin oranges – for about nine months of the year. In the fall my mother conceded to buying fresh: orchard apples and farm stand Bartlett pears for her children while sticking to bananas for herself, so easy to peel and nice and soft inside.
Since that first taste I have never tired of pears, and a Bartlett pear remains my favorite fall fruit for eating out of hand. A good fall Bartlett pear at its perfect stage of ripeness, the skin flirting with chartreuse, will be juicy, sweet, and incomparably buttery in texture. The apple has tartness and sturdiness going for it – I couldn’t, for example, keep a bushel bag of pears in my fridge without ending up with a pile of bruised and mushy fruit – but even the tastiest apple can’t match a Bartlett’s drip-down-your-chin juiciness.
When I’m not sneaking ripe pears out of the fruit basket, I also like to cook with them. Bartletts make excellent bakers when used just before their peak of ripeness– juicy enough to add a luscious moistness to cakes and tea breads without being so juicy that they throw off the liquid content of your batter. The next time you’re longing for a spicy fall coffeecake, dice up a couple of Bartlett pears into rough chunks and fold these instead of chopped apples into your favorite recipe. Add a few dashes of mace and powdered ginger in place of cinnamon and you’ll bring out the best in the pear. The less juicy, crunchier Bosc pears, while not my favorite for snacking, make excellent poaching pears, holding up nicely to a prolonged soak in fruit juice- or wine-based, spiced poaching liquids.
One of my favorite ways of eating cooked pears, though, is in a spicy, zesty chutney. For last Thanksgiving’s dinner I wanted a cranberry-based condiment on the table, but one that would give us the tartness we love from cranberries without the cranberry’s pucker-up astringency that so often leaves a relish unfinished, pushed to the side of a plate. The answer came to me in a combination of chopped pears and dried figs. These fruits together added a depth of sweetness unmatched by the more usual pairing of cranberries with orange juice, but it was a sweetness saved from cloying with the few bold flavorings of ginger, mustard seed and hot pepper.
The resulting rosy red chutney is unbelievably yummy with turkey but also with other birds: duck, chicken, Cornish hens. This chutney loves pork and pork, any cut, loves its fruitiness right back. I’ve also eaten the chutney with mild creamy cheeses such as Camembert or Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam and, as bold as it is, the fruit only complements the buttery richness of the soft cheese. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you might try the chutney spooned over a spicy, dark molasses gingerbread topped with a little whipped cream. Or serve the chutney slightly warm over vanilla ice cream for a very grown up dessert.
Zesty Pear, Fig and Cranberry Chutney
(makes 3-4 cups)
12 ounces of cranberries, picked over, shriveled or spoiled berries discarded
1/2 cup maple syrup
generously rounded 1/2 cup chopped dried figs
2 pears, Bartlett or Bosc, just before peak of ripeness, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 cup peeled, minced fresh gingerroot
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup cider vinegar, unfiltered if you can find it
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan combine the cranberries, syrup, figs, pears, lemon zest, ginger, red pepper flakes, onion, vinegar, mustard seeds and salt, and simmer the mixture over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for up to 25 minutes or until the berries have burst. The chutney should look like a thickened sauce but still retain some chunkiness. Note that the Bartletts will soften up more that the Boscs. Your chutney will keep, covered in an airtight container and chilled, for 2 weeks. Serve the chutney at room temperature.