It's the peak of pears, this time of bright blue skies and crisp mornings that bring to mind the crunch of a fresh pear.
More than 5,000 varieties of pears flourish throughout the world; green pears seen on the shelves of a supermarket near you are courtesy of refrigerated transport systems -- and the season.
Whether they're Forelle, Comice, Anjou or a not-quite-ripe Bartlett, pears are fragile fruits, quick to ripen and quick to rot, so their individual peak is short.
Pears are native to Asia Minor and grew wild in prehistoric times, according to the cooking encyclopedia, "Larousse Gastronomique."
The Romans ate them raw, cooked and dried, and they also made a fermented drink from the pear, too.
A medium-sized pear holds about 100 calories and is a good source of potassium.
At the market, choose pears with firm flesh and no visible bruises.
To ripen, allow them to stand at room temperature for a few
days. They're at peak eating condition when the stem end yields to gentle pressure. Eat them right away, or refrigerate.
At home, eat pears out of hand, peeled and poached in a mixture of 1/2 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 1 sliced lemon.
For a quick microwave dessert, toss cored and sliced pears with a little vanilla, then sprinkle with cheese. Cut 1/4 cup butter into a mixture of 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup rolled quick-cooking oats and 1/2 cup packed brown sugar until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal; sprinkle over pears. Nuke until tender.
This recipe is from "The 5 in 10 Cookbook," by Paula Hamilton (Hearst, $15)
Amaretto Stuffed Pears
Makes 4 servings
2 large pears, ripe but still firm
4 amaretti or almond macaroons
1/3 cup amaretto
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Rinse and dry pears. Cut in half and remove the cores. Scoop out about 2 teaspoons of pear from the center of each half and coarsely chop. Crumble the cookies.
In a small bowl, combine the chopped fruit with the cookies, amaretto, pecans and orange zest. Mix until well-blended.
Fill each pear half with a quarter of the fruit filling. Arrange pears, filled side up, in a circular pattern in a glass pie plate. Cover them with a sheet of waxed paper. Microwave on high for 4 to 5 minutes, or until pears are tender. Serve warm.
Per serving: Calories, 294; protein, 1.53 g; carbohydrates, 43.4 g; total fat, 7.36 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; saturated fat, 2.03 g; dietary fiber, 4.11 g; sodium, 37.4 mg; sugar, 36.8 g; calcium, 17 mg; iron, .558 mg; alcohol, 9.13 g.