Pears a welcome complement to Thanksgiving staples
By Suzanne Biro
Ahh... Thanksgiving weekend, my favourite holiday. The only true holiday entirely devoted to the celebration of food and eating in the company of close friends and family. Perfect.
I was reluctant to dedicate this column to the traditional thanksgiving feast. Nothing about the history of the cranberry was particularly endearing and although the history and information regarding the turkey was interesting, I was not about to throw out a single recipe for the perfect roast turkey. Like real barbecue, the cooking of the holiday turkey can turn into an ugly disagreement among otherwise civilized family members and I was not about to roast myself over the coals with my own recipe (no pun intended).
Instead, I have decided to dedicate this column to the pear a beautifully delicate fruit that is perfect at this time of year and a welcome addition to the holiday table too used to marshmallowed sweet potatoes, jellied cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie (although all of these are staple favourites).
Native to Asia Minor, the pear tree grew wild in prehistoric times. Along with the apple it is now one of the most common fruits in the world due, in part, to its ability to be stored, un-ripened, in cool storage for long periods of time. This increases the availability of the fruit so that one can buy good pears year round. Canadian varieties are harvested between mid-August and late October and are available from cold-storage from November to February.
Pears are among few fruits that should be picked before they are ripe. If they are left on the tree to ripen the flesh will be mushy and mealy. When buying pears they should be hard and unripe, gently yielding only at the stem end. The fruit should be free of blemishes. Store them at room temperature for a few days until they are ripe; when they gently yield to pressure and have a strong fragrance. You can prolong this ripeness a few more days by storing them in the fridge but they are best eaten when just ripe. A perfectly ripe pear can turn rotten very quickly so keep an eye on it.
There are over 5,000 varieties of pear grown today, from the common Bartlett to unusual heirloom varieties. Pears are the king of fruits in France. The highly prized Comice variety is stored with a red wax seal over the stem to prevent excess evaporation. In Canada and the United States the Bartlett, Bosc and Anjou varieties, which are readily available, are the best for cooking and baking. It is important to know that different varieties take more or less time to cook and that sometimes unripe pears are better for some recipes than ripe ones. Bartlett or Anjou can take as little as five minutes to cook while a Bosc may take an hour.