Picking, peeling, poaching pears


Pears are one of the few fruits that are best if they're not tree-ripened. Allowed to ripen naturally on the tree, the flesh of many pear varieties softens too rapidly and develops gritty granules. The granules are harmless but spoil the buttery texture of an otherwise superb pear.

For this reason, pears typically are harvested before the granules develop, when the fruit has matured to full size but is still hard. Picked at this stage, pears also are easier to transport and pack; cold storage preserves their quality for months.

Pears for eating fresh (Bartlett, French Butter and all-purpose varieties such as Anjou or Comice) should be fragrant, free of blemishes, and just beginning to color and soften. Once home, hold the pears at warm room temperature until they give slightly to gentle pressure, then refrigerate them and use within a few days. Bosc and Winter Nellis, both excellent for poaching or baking, or all-purpose varieties intended for cooking, should be used before they soften.

Success tips

Many varieties of pears don't require peeling; if the skin is coarse or bitter, use a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife to remove the peel.

Once peeled or cut, pears oxidize rapidly; to retard oxidation, rub or sprinkle the surfaces with lemon juice or drop the pears in lemon juice diluted with water.

To core pears, press a melon baller into bottom of unpeeled pear, removing blossom end; insert melon baller into cavity at blossom end and scoop out remaining core with fibers and seeds.

Pear-Walnut Poundcake

Serves 8 to 10

4 ripe pears

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons flour

4 egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

18 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 1/4 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind

1 tablespoon dark rum

4 egg whites

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder confectioners' sugar, for decoration

Peel, core and quarter pears; toss them in lemon juice, then in the 2 tablespoons flour; set aside.

Beat egg yolks and the 1 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl until light; beat in butter. Sift the 2 1/4 cups flour and baking powder together; stir into yolk mixture. Stir in orange rind and rum. Beat the 4 egg whites until they hold soft peaks; beat in the 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until stiff but still glossy (do not overbeat). Stir 1/4 of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Into a lightly buttered 9-inch springform pan, spread half of the batter. Arrange quartered pears in a single layer over batter. Sprinkle walnuts over pears; sift cocoa powder evenly over nuts. Spread remaining batter on top. Bake until cake tester comes out clean or cake springs back when lightly touched in center (about 40 to 50 minutes). Cool on a wire rack. Remove band from springform pan; dust cake with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature.

Wine-Basted Pears

Serves 6

6 large, firm pears, slightly underripe

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cups hearty red wine (zinfandel, Burgundy or cabernet sauvignon)

1 teaspoon honey

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup orange juice

fresh mint leaves and 6 long, thin strips of orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and core pears but leave them whole.

Mix remaining ingredients for poaching liquid. Place pears in a deep baking dish and pour liquid over them. Bake until pears are softened (about 45 minutes). Serve hot or chilled, with some of the poaching liquid spooned over the pears. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and orange zest.

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