Start a love affair with pears

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Move aside apples, it's time we give a little love to fall's most underrated fruit — pears.

Even though pears are an excellent source of dietary fiber and are packed with nutrients for only 100 calories per serving, the fruit often gets shoved to the back of the fall fruit display behind the more camera-ready varieties of apples.

The majority of pears grown in the United States are from Oregon and Washington, but there are some places locally where you can purchase Asian pears. At Lakeview Orchard in Lanesborough, they have 15 Asian pear trees, with three different varieties, according to David Jurczak, co-owner of the orchard, which has more than 4,500 trees, including apple, apricot, cherry, peach, plum, traditional pear and Asian pear.

"In a good year, [our pear trees] will produce about 30 or more bushels," Jurczak said. "We did not get good pollination this spring because it was cold and rainy at bloom. There were far less bushels this year." He said the last variety of pear will be harvested this week.

But there is still time to purchase ripe pears this fall at supermarkets or farm stands — you just have to know how to tell when it's ripe.

Pears are one of the few fruits that do not ripen on the tree, according to USA Pears, the organization that represents pear growers in Washington and Oregon. The pear is harvested when it is mature, but not yet ripe (which is why when you buy them at supermarkets, they are often hard, to account for time on the shelf). If left at room temperature, pears slowly ripen from the inside out. You'll know your pear is ready to eat by checking the neck. Apply gentle pressure to the neck of the pear with your thumb. If it yields, it's ripe.

Once the pear is ripe, put it in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process for up to five days, according to USA Pears' website. But remember, don't put that pear in the refrigerator until it's ripe; until it is, keep it at room temperature. If you're feeling impatient while waiting for your pears to ripen, try putting them in a bowl with other fruit, like bananas, which will help speed up the process.

The sweet, juicy flesh of pears lends itself to pretty much any recipe cooked with apples. Once ripened, pears make a great base for your favorite crisp, or can be sliced and added to a fresh fall salad with cranberries and goat cheese.

There are different pear varieties, each with their own taste. A few of the most common varieties include: Bosc: this pear's firm texture is perfect for poaching, eating raw and baking; Bartlett: this pear is most like an apple, so it's best for baking; Anjou: best eaten raw; Asian: best eaten raw and in salads and slaws; Comice: serve with soft, ripening cheeses.

HARVEST PEAR CRISP WITH CANDIED GINGER

This recipe is a favorite of Dawn Klein, an English teacher at Hoosac Valley Middle School. It's from Epicurious.com

INGREDIENTS:

Topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup coarsely chopped whole raw almonds

1/4 cup 1/4-inch cubes crystallized ginger

Filling:

1/2 cup sugar

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2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 pounds firm but ripe pears (6 to 7 large), peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)

DIRECTIONS:

For topping: Whisk first four ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter. Working quickly so butter does not soften, rub in with fingertips until moist clumps form. Stir in oats, almonds and ginger. Chill while preparing filling. This can be made one day ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

For filling: Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk first four ingredients in large bowl. Add pears; toss. Transfer to 13-by-9-inch oval baking dish. Sprinkle topping over pear mixture.

Bake until topping is crisp and golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 50 minutes. Serve warm.

***

PEAR AND PEACH PIZZA

Courtesy of Emily and Benn Griffin of Pittsfield. 

Emily works in the Pittsfield City Clerk's office. Benn is a sixth-grade history teacher and cross country coach at BART Charter Public School. 

According to Emily Griffin: It's so simple, and the recipe is very loose — I don't have any measurements of ingredients. We're impromptu inexperienced bakers, so instead of making a dough, we purchase wheat dough from the grocery store. We typically use our picked apples, pears, and peaches. Peel the fruit, if preferred, then slice thinly. For an even more desert-y twist, enjoy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or cool whip.

INGREDIENTS:

Wheat pizza dough

2-3 cups of peach and pear slices

Unsweetened apple sauce (or sweetened)

Nutmeg and Cinnamon

Turbinado Sugar (regular sugar would work)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 475 F. Spray a baking sheet and spread the dough. Bake dough for 10 minutes.

Spread the apple sauce over the dough. If using apple, use thin slices, if peach and pear consider cooking down in a large skillet on the stovetop while the dough is baking.

Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg "a little goes a LONG way." Spread fruit onto the pizza. Top with sugar

Bake for 12 minutes in the oven.


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