In our culture, apples are considered the quintessential autumn fruit. So much so that we tend to forget that pears are also one of the season's important gifts. Even if they are now available 12 months a year, they are at their best in November and can change any meal from so-so to extraordinary in no time.
Pears may not be the toughest travellers, but with a bit of care, they can be used in a wide variety of simple dishes, at least within the first two day of any paddling trip. They make delicious appetizers and can be integrated to many savoury dishes, not only desserts.
When history reveals the pears' secrets
In Homer’s Odyssey, the pear was said to be one of the most precious gifts offered to humans by the gods. Well known since the earliest civilizations, their trace has been found on prehistoric drawings in grottos located in Switzerland. Asian pears and European pears belong to two different major families, one originating in China and the other one in northern Europe. The Asian variety produces firm and crisp fruits with a round shape similar to an apple. They ripen on the tree, whereas European pears must be picked before ripeness and left for two or three days at room temperature. Their flesh is very tender, slightly granular and fragrant. The texture, skin color and aroma vary considerably from one type to another.
Although there are as many as 3000 varieties of pears cultivated around the world, there are about a dozen varieties in North America. Everyone knows the green and the red Bartlett, the Anjou and the Bosc, the Bartlett being the most popular throughout the world. Other well-known varieties include the Comice, the Concord, the Seckel and the Starkrimson. The Bartlett has a bell shape, is bright yellow, very sweet and soft once ripe. The Anjou is rather egg shaped, is very aromatic and slightly sweeter. The Bosc is firmer, with an elongated shape and a lovely golden color. The Comice is round shaped with a short neck and stem, whereas the Concord is known for its elongated shape and firm flesh.
Where are the growers?
In the USA, pears are grown mainly in Washington and Oregon, with more than 1600 growers in those two States. 75% of Canadian pears are cultivated in Ontario's Niagara Peninsula. The US is the third biggest producer in the world, just behind China and Italy. Many pear orchards have been in families for generations and each pear is plucked by hand with great care because pears can bruise easily.
Health behind taste
A medium pear contains 100 calories; about the same as an apple. It is a good source of vitamin C, an important antioxydant that helps build bones and tissues and to protect against many chronic diseases and hypertension. It also contains other antioxydants, which contribute to fight against health problems such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease. It is very rich in fibers (5g per pear, which is 20% of your daily required intake) and folic acid.
How to choose pears
- Choose pears that are still firm, with no bruises or stains and let ripen for 2 to 3 days. Any longer than that and they will begin to rot close to the core of the fruit.
- If you need them to ripen more rapidly, place a pear in a brown paper bag with a banana. It should be ripe within 24 hours.
- Pears are ready to eat when slightly soft under the pressure of one’s finger.
- Place pears in the refrigerator when they are ripe. They keep for 2 to 3 days.
- To bring pears onboard with you, wrap each individually in parchment paper and place in a plastic container. Eat within 24 to 48 hours.
- Bosc and Flemish Beauty are two varieties of pears that travel better because they have a thicker skin and a firmer flesh. The same is true with Asian pears, which have the texture of an apple.
- All varieties of pears are easy to cook.
- If you cook with pears, it is a good idea to first slice them and to immerse slices either in salted water, lemon or orange juice in order to prevent oxidation.
Simple suggestions to serve pears
For paddlers, pears can be prepared in salads, poached, as butter or sauce or in desserts such as cakes or pies. When you eat them at home, you can make a fabulous "poire Belle-Hélène" with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
- They are at their best in salads, with toasted nuts, dried cranberries, aragula, lettuce, blue cheese or small cubes of cheddar. They make an easy meal.
- Try them stuffed for a very simple, delicious and elegant main dish. Mix crab or lobster meat, shrimp or chicken breast thinly diced with scallions, celery, bell pepper and mayonnaise and stuff pear halves with the mixture.
- For a filling dessert, mix ricotta cheese, chopped toasted pecans, chocolate chips, and a finely chopped orange. Stuff the pear with the mixture.
- For delicious pear butter, cut 8 pears (core removed) in small cubes (with skin on).
Put in a skillet with 4 oz butter, 1 tsp pure vanilla extract and 3 oz honey or maple syrup.
Cook uncover over very low heat for 1 hour.
Put in blender and puree.
You can also add spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise) during the cooking process if you want. Just make sure to remove them before blending if you use whole spices. Put in sterilized jars, cover, seal, and cook 30 more minutes in a large pot filled with boiling water. This butter will keep for two to three days on a camping trip after the jar is opened.
- Another easy way to prepare pears is to cook them in a skillet with a bit of butter and sugar to caramelize for a few minutes before sprinkling with cinnamon and chopped nuts.