One of the great benefits of shopping in a Coop that seeks out great local produce is the moment when I find a new variety of a favorite food. This week, as I was pondering the pear selections, I was delighted to see a whole display of Harrow Sweet Pears. They were a little bigger than my beloved (and hard to find) Luscious Pears, but a little smaller than a typical Anjou.
I bought a whole bag of them. Oh, be still my heart.
These Harrow Sweet pears were delicious. Juicy, sweet, with barely a hint of tart to keep it in balance. Meltingly tender, with a little russeting to the skin to give it a bit of bitterness on the edges. I could have just polished off all of them eating over the sink, but I tried to show some restraint. I only ate two.
That gorgeous half red one on the front left is the Harrow Sweet, and there is another one in the back center. To the right of the Harrowsweet is the Red Bartlett, to the right of that, a Concorde, behind that, a Bosc, and the other red pear is a Red D’Anjou, and the round green one on the left is a D’Anjou.
Any of these pears can be your perfect pear, really. If you are baffled by pears, frustrated when you cut into one and it’s too hard, or already too mushy inside, you just need to learn the simple art of judging a pear’s ripeness. It’s all about the stem end. When the flesh at the base of the stem gives to gentle pressure, it’s ready. If you wait until anything else gets soft, it’s too late. If the stem is gone, that is a bad sign, too. You see, most pear varieties are picked hard ripe. This makes it really convenient; all you have to do is keep them refrigerated, taking out pears as you need them, and letting them ripen on the windowsill.
A few varieties, like this Harrow Sweet, can be ripened on the tree, making them even more fragile and unlikely to take the pear market by storm. These are the kind of fruit that doesn’t make it far from the farm. I guess it’s one of the benefits of living in a cold, Northern state.
Most pears taste similar, with copious juice and sweetness when ripe. D’ Anjou, Bartlett, Concorde, all have lush, melting flesh and drip with juice when perfectly ripe. The Bosc stands out for its firm texture and understated sweetness. If you are looking for a pear that holds its shape, the Bosc is the one, and you will see it in recipes for poached pears time and again, standing tall even after an hour of simmering in wine syrup. But the magical moment of picking up a perfect pear calls for a plan. If you find one today, what will you do, after you eat two or three? Pears make fine pie, pear butter and sauce, and you can certainly slice them over your granola. Use them in you smoothies, and don’t overwhelm them with strong flavors, or you will lose the pear magic.
My choice for showing off my pears was this salad. With a dressing that is thickened with a puree of pear and pecan, it’s got lots of pear flavor. A hefty handful of slightly hot, sweet pecans gives it some weight. A few warm spices give it the Fall feel, without going too crazy. I let the pears shine.
Perfect Pear-Pecan Salad
PECANS: 1 cup pecan halves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon raw sugar 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 of a pear, peeled
1/4 cup pecans
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large head butter lettuce, washed and dried
4 ripe pears, sliced
For the pecans, preheat the oven to 325 f. In a bowl, toss the pecans with the olive oil, sugar, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Spread on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes. The pecans should smell toasty. Cool on a rack.
For the dressing, put the pear half and the pecans in a food processor. Process until smoothly pureed. Add the lemon, scrape down, and process again. Add the sugar and salt, process, and with the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil. Transfer the dressing to a small bowl.To assemble, spread butter lettuce leaves on a platter or on individual plates. Cover with just-sliced juicy pears, drizzle with the dressing, and cover with spiced pecans. Enjoy immediately.