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Pears: The Other Fall Fruit

Karen D
Posted by Karen D on Oct 8, 2018

I have always loved the in-between seasons of Spring and Fall. Everything is changing, from the weather to what we wear. I don’t know about you, but I love getting out my “sweater weather” clothes – at least for the first time, please don’t ask me in January! I also love the seasonality of the foods we find at the grocery store and farmer’s markets, it gets me thinking about all those warm Winter dishes that had been stowed away for the Summer months.

Now I know that as far as fruit goes, Fall means apples – it has always meant apples for as far back as any of us can probably remember. But personally, I am in love with “the other Fall fruit”: pears! Somehow they seem to get left behind in the pursuit of all things apple, but a good pear? Amazing. Remember having to eat those Summer peaches over the sink, dripping all kinds of juicy goodness? Well, a good pear is Fall’s answer to that same experience!

One of my favorite pear varieties is the Comice pear: it’s on the smaller side, naturally sweet, creamy and juicy. It’s the perfect pear to snack on straight out of your fruit basket, and I think they are also the perfect pears to poach. Because they are on the softer side, I wouldn’t bake with them as they may fall apart easily. But poaching very gently seems to bring out the best in them, so I thought I would share my favorite ways to do just that. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines. You can flavor up your poaching liquid to whatever suits your own taste. Trust me when I say that deliciousness will ensue regardless!

Poached pears have a simple elegance about them. You’ll spend about an hour-and-a-half or so making a beautiful dessert that looks like you fussed over it for much longer. While you can poach nearly any pear variety, Comice pears are just the right size to cap off a meal. You can see that they fit right in the palm of my hand.

comicepears

Make sure that you buy pears with the stems intact and that they are at room temperature when you start to work with them. 

My biggest dilemma is always whether I should poach the pears in red or white wine. I wish I had a favorite; it would make that decision so much simpler! Sometimes I go by what I’m preparing for dinner and try to work it out that way, usually complementing the meal rather than matching it. But more often than not, I will just do both and let my guests choose. It doesn’t really take any more time if you have two pots you can work with at once, one for the red wine poaching liquid and one for the white. Regardless of whether you want to go with red or white (or both!) it’s best to get your poaching liquid going before you prepare the pears. This way you can set your pears in the liquid as soon as they are peeled, so they don’t start to oxidize and brown up on you. Oh, and a note on the wine? They don’t need to be expensive wines, just ones you would be willing to drink. I spent about fifteen dollars total, for both wines at Trader Joe’s. 

Let’s start with the red wine poaching liquid. Grab a bottle of a medium-to-full bodied dry red wine and pour it into a saucepan. I like to use a Merlot-Cabernet blend. You want to use a saucepan that will allow the pears to submerge as much as possible – the more the better, but keep in mind that you will be turning them, so if they partly bob up above the surface, don’t worry. Add 2 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom, a few gratings of whole nutmeg (or a sprinkling of ground nutmeg) and a cinnamon stick. As I mentioned before, play around with the flavorings as you wish. Also add in strips of orange zest from an entire orange. For this I use this citrus zester, but you could just as easily use a knife. 

zester

I like to use strips instead of zesting into shreds only because it strains off more easily at the end, and you won’t have little bits of zest clinging to your pears. Be sure to get as little of the white pith as possible, just going for all that citrus-y goodness in there! 

zestingorange

Now cut your orange in half and juice it right into the pot. 

For the white wine poaching liquid, I like to use a bottle of sweet Riesling. Again, pour it into a saucepan, adding 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar and a Tablespoon of vanilla extract. You can use vanilla bean paste instead of the vanilla extract so the pears get a nice sprinkling of vanilla seeds on them; this is my preference, but I realized too late that I was out, so the vanilla extract worked nicely. You will add strips of orange zest again, AND strips of zest from a whole lemon. 

aromatics

You don't need the juice this time, so save the fruit for another use. As you can see, you’re also going to add a cinnamon stick, 5 or 6 whole cloves and chunks of peeled ginger (from about a 2-inch piece of ginger).  Once again, adjust your seasonings to your own personal taste.

Whether you have one pot going or two, heat the poaching liquid over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Just as it starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer to blend the flavors until you are ready to add your pears. Do be careful, since sugared liquids can boil over very easily… and what a mess, not to mention the wine!

To keep the pears from falling over when I serve them, I first take a thin slice off the bottom, just enough to make a nice, even surface so the pear will stand up.

pearslice

I like to core the pears. Not everyone does, but the way I see it, coring serves three purposes for me: First, it makes it a whole lot easier to eat when you (and your guests!) don’t have to work your way around the core and seeds; second, the poaching liquid fills the core, which keeps the pears from bobbing about in the liquid, letting them submerge more fully; and lastly, since Comice pears are softer to begin with, it helps to reduce the poaching time so they don’t get all mushy. 

To core the pears, I go old-school and use a melon baller. You can see that this one has been around the block a few times! It was always on hand in my mother’s kitchen, and for tasks like this one, I’m always glad it made it into mine. If yours has a small and large scoop, use the smaller one. If you don’t have a melon-baller, use the smallest spoon you have. Comice pears are pretty soft, which makes this task fast and super-easy. Be sure that you are scooping out all the black seeds – you’ll see them and you’ll know when the job is done! 

pearcore

To peel the pears, use a nice, sharp vegetable peeler. If your peeler is making mush of the surface of the pear, then go to a sharp paring knife, whatever works to get just the thin layer of skin off the pears. For the pears that will poach in red wine, I like to remove as much of the skin as possible, going all the way up to the stem. For the pears that will poach in the white wine, however, I like to leave just a little bit of skin around the stem because there is much less color with these, and the skin provides a bit of contrast. It really all comes down to personal preference and what you like.

As soon as the pears are prepped, gently slide them into the poaching liquid. Do not handle them by the stem, as the stem may come off. I cannot emphasize “gently” enough: The pears will be even softer without their skins and you don’t want to accidentally cut into the sides. Also, the liquid will be hot, so you don’t want to splash yourself. As you put the pears into the saucepan, be sure to let their empty cores fill with liquid.  

redpears

whitepears

Now lower the heat as low as possible and cover the saucepan. The pears will poach ever-so-gently for about 30 minutes. Turn them occasionally, just to even out the coloring. Use a silicone spatula, if possible. The finished pears should “give” slightly when you lightly squeeze at the base between your thumb and index finger. Once they’re done, carefully remove them to a plate or sheet pan. You may want to use a slotted spoon for this. I don’t recommend using tongs, since they can easily smash the pears – remember, they have no core! Allow them to cool to room temperature.   

redpears2

whitepears2

Meanwhile, set your poaching liquid to high heat. Once it starts to boil, let it go for about 30-35 minutes, until it is reduced and gets a bit syrupy. Pour the liquid through a strainer into a bowl or measuring cup.   

redwineliquid

whitewineliquid

You can see that you will end up with about 1.5 cups of syrup from the red wine poaching liquid, and about 1 cup of syrup from the white wine poaching liquid. Discard the strained off solids and let the syrups cool down. They will thicken a bit, but should still be pourable/spoonable and silky-smooth delicious!

You can poach the pears and make the syrup up to a day ahead of time. Once everything has cooled to room temperature, store the pears, covered and refrigerated, in a single layer. The syrups can remain at room temperature for a day, and will keep longer than that in covered containers in the refrigerator. Let everything come to room temperature before serving. If the sauce won’t pour/spoon nicely, warm it just enough to loosen it up a bit.

I like to serve the poached pears in a little puddle of chocolate sauce, either individually or on a platter. You can make your own favorite chocolate sauce or buy a jar at the store, it’s up to you! Then spoon a bit of the syrup over the top. Be sure to keep small bowls of the syrup on hand at the table. My husband always wants me to put the chocolate sauce on the table, too, so why not? These are so creamy soft, you and your guests can eat them with a spoon!

poachedpears

Not bad for “the other Fall fruit.” Enjoy!

Our lineup of Fall classes at The Chopping Block are taking advantage of the abundance of great seasonal produce. Check out the new Fall menus for Know Your Gnocchi, Wine & Dine, Pasta Workshop, Date Night: Wine Harvest Dinner, Fall Dinner Party, and Autumn Soups & Stews. Flavors to savor! 

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Topics: chocolate, Wine, poach, pear, dessert, Cooking Techniques

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