Enjoying pears starts with knowing when they are ripe

Pan-seared pork chops topped with juicy red pears and caramelized onions create a colourful and flavourful dinner.  |  Betty Ann Deobald photo

Some people don’t enjoy pears because they’re either hard, starchy and under-ripe, or over-ripe and mushy.

This happens because pears ripen better off the tree so they are picked green. They also ripen from the inside out. Learning how to tell when a pear is ripe is the secret to enjoying them.

The test is to “check the neck.” Put gentle pressure on the neck of the pear at the base of the stem. If it gives way a little, it’s ripe. Because pears ripen on the outside last, by the time the entire exterior of the pear is soft it is overripe.

An apple slicer/corer works well to slice and core a pear. For a ripe pear, the slicer will glide through the pear flesh and the pear will be sweet and juicy. An underripe pear will be difficult to slice and have a dry starchy taste.

To ripen pears, place them into a paper bag with a banana or apple and seal up the bag. To slow down the ripening process put pears in the refrigerator.

The tender edible skin of the pear is a delicious source of fibre, (six grams). The peel also contains valuable phytonutrients.

A medium-sized pear has only 100 calories and is a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Pears are considered healthy carbs because they are slow to convert to sugar and slow to enter the bloodstream, meaning they are low on the glycemic index and really good for you.

There are a number of varieties of pears and each has a unique look and taste. The most popular are the light green and red Anjou pears, the yellow and red Bartlett and the golden Bosc.

The elegantly named Anjou (pronounced ON-ju) is naturally sweet and has exceptional keeping qualities. It is available as a red pear or light green with a yellow tinge when ripe. The Anjou is considered a winter pear and stores well at temperatures just above freezing. The green are available from September to March and the red from September to July.

The Bartlett is slightly green when picked. When ripe they have a clear yellow skin. This aromatic pear’s flesh is juicy and sweet with a fine-grained, smooth texture. There are also red skinned Bartletts. Bartletts are available from August to November.

Bosc pears are juicy, even when still greenish in colour. When fully ripe, they have a rich yellow skin with cinnamon-coloured speckles. The Bosc pear has a white, juicy flesh and full-bodied flavour that goes well with spices and sauces. They remain firm and keep their shape during cooking. They are available from September to January.

Bosc and Anjou varieties are excellent in baked items. Bartlett pears tend to break down. For good texture and flavour, try a combination of a firm variety with Bartlett. When using an unpeeled pear consider a red pear to add a pop of colour.

Pork Chops with Pears and Caramelized Onions

Juicy pears and caramelized onions top pan-seared pork chops for a flavour-packed dinner.

Servings: 2

  • 2 medium sweet onions sliced, not chopped
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil 15 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. salt 1 mL
  • 2 tsp. honey 10 mL
  • cooking spray
  • 2 pork chops bone in
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pear, not too ripe, cubed

Heat oil in a thick bottom, non-stick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onions and stir to coat with oil. After one minute, add salt and honey, stir well. Reduce to low heat and cook onions for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning. Be patient to produce sweet, tender onions that melt in your mouth. When onions are ready set aside.

Spray the same skillet with cooking spray. Turn the heat to medium/high and cook the pork chops three to four minutes on each side. Don’t overcook. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from skillet and let rest for one minute.

While pork chops are cooking, prepare pear and set aside.

Arrange pork chops on plates and top with caramelized onions and pear. Serve immediately.

Candied Pecan Pear Salad

A light fruit flavoured salad. Yields: six one-cup servings.

  • 1/2 tsp. butter 2 mL
  • 1/4 c. pecans, chopped 60 mL
  • 3/4 tsp. sugar 4 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon .5 mL
  • 1/2 c. pomegranate seeds, divided 125 mL
  • 1/4 c. raspberry vinegar 60 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard 7 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. honey 7 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. salt .5 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper .5 mL or less
  • 1/2 c. canola oil 125 mL
  • 1 large pear
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice 2 mL
  • 1 5 oz. package spring mix salad greens 142 g
  • 1/4 c. crumbled feta or blue cheese 60 mL

In a small heavy skillet, melt butter.

Add pecans; cook over medium heat until toasted, about four minutes, stir frequently. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon; cook and stir for two to four minutes or until sugar is melted. Spread on foil to cool.

For dressing, in a blender, combine 1/4 cup (60 mL) pomegranate seeds, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt and pepper, cover and process until smooth.

While processing, gradually add oil in a steady stream.

Cut pear into thin slices or chunks; sprinkle with lemon juice.

In a salad bowl, combine the greens, pears, cheese and candied pecans. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately. Adapted from: tasteofhome.com

Pear and Almond Cream Tart

This simple to make tart makes an elegant dessert. Be sure to use ripe pears for the very best pear flavour. Serves six to eight.

  • 1/2 c. butter 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. icing sugar 125 mL
  • 1 c. ground almond flour 250 mL
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract 1 mL
  • 1/4 c. flour 60 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. salt .5 mL
  • 2 ripe pears
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon 2 mL
  • 1/4 c. sliced almonds 60 mL

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Cream butter, add icing sugar and ground almond flour and mix.

Scrape down bowl and add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

Add vanilla and almond extract and mix. Measure flour add salt to flour and mix.

Add to the creamed mixture, combine well.

Peel pears, cut in half and remove stem and seeds. Slice pears, lengthwise, into quarter inch slices.

Pour almond batter into an eight-inch spring-form pan or into an eight-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Spread batter out evenly.

Place pears on top of batter in a circular pattern, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle top of pears with cinnamon and sliced almonds.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Let tart cool before removing from pan and before slicing. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. Adapted from bctreefruits.com

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Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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