Thursday, August 25, 2011


Whenever I think of pears my mind goes back to my childhood home in Battle Creek, Michigan where we had an enormous pear tree that towered over me and gave us delicious yellow fruit every summer. Funny, as a kid I did not like apples but I looked forward to the juicy, honey-like flavor of the first pear of the season. And I can still see the jars of preserved pears lined up against the wall in our basement along with the peaches, pickles, tomatoes and whatever else my parents could get to "put up."

When I moved to Sonoma County, it was like coming home again because the property had not one but two pear trees on it and before long I was enjoying that childhood gift of summer. (Funny, after we moved from that house in Battle Creek, I was loathe to actually spend money on pears after having gotten them for free for so many years.) What we did not have when I was a child was the amount of recipes for pears that I have since discovered and so I was so happy to devote last Monday's show to the subject.

My childhood in Battle Creek is not the only memory of pears that connects me to family. More recently, a certain salad started showing up at the Thanksgiving table of my family back in Michigan. I had the pleasure of tasting it when I went back on a visit several years ago and it has become a favorite here in the Left Coast as well. I hope you will try it and enjoy it enough to make it a part of your tradition.

Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

3 pears
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Mixed salad greens
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 recipe candied walnuts or pecans (see below)
1 recipe pear nectar vinaigrette

Half and core pears. Thinly slice and brush with lemon juice.
Fan pears out of salad greens.
Sprinkle with cheese and nuts and drizzle with 3/4 cup of vinaigrette.

For the nuts:
Line a baking sheet with buttered foil.
In a heavy skillet, combine 1/2 cup whole walnuts or pecans, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook over medium heat shaking skillet occasionally until sugar melts. Do not stir.
Reduce heat to low and cook until sugar starts to caramelize stirring occasionally.
Pour onto prepared baking sheet and cool completely. Break into pieces.

Whisk until emulsified:
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup neutral tasting oil such as canola
1/3 cup pear nectar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

Pears poached in wine is a classic so I was delightfully taken aback when I found this one for pears poached in Belgian dark beer. Having been to Belgium a few times, this has a special place in my heart as I had some wonderful dishes there which featured cooking with their wonderful beer. One of my favorites remains a recipe for rabbit cooked in beer and prunes that I enjoyed for lunch one winter afternoon.

Pears Poached in Belgian Beer

2 bottles (24 ounces) Belgian Rodenbach beer or strong dark beer
1 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks (2-inches each)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 strip (2-inches long) lemon zest
4 lemon slices, white pith and peel removed
2 whole cloves
1/4 cup red currant jelly
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored and halved.

Bring beer and sugar to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Reduce the heat and add the cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, ginger, and lemon zest. Stud 2 of the lemon slices with the cloves and add them to the saucepan with the other lemon slices and the jelly. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the pears and simmer, covered, over medium heat until the pears are soft, 25 to 35 minutes, depending on how ripe the pears are. Turn the pears from time to time to make sure that they color evenly.
Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce the poaching liquid over medium heat by about half or until it thickens to a syrupy consistency. This may take as long as 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Combine the pears with the syrup and refrigerate until ready to serve. You can gild these in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 10 days. Let them come to room temperature before serving. Serve with the following Créme Anglais with Dark Beer. Serves 4 to 8.

Créme Anglais with Dark Beer

1/2 cup Belgian Scaldis beer
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks
1 cup light brown sugar
5 tablespoons whipping cream

In a small saucepan, heat the beer over medium heat until it starts to bubble around the sides. (If using a vanilla bean, scrap the seeds into the hot beer.) Turn off heat.

Beat yolks and sugar together with the vanilla extract (if using) until thickened and pale yellow, about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and then gradually whisk in the beer.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat very gently over low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. DO NOT LET BOIL! Serve warm or cold.

In the past I have not been a big fan of fruit salsas but with my recent interest in Brazilian cuisine, I've been discovering sweet-savory connection that I used to only relegate to the odd currant thrown into the Sicilian recipe. So when I found the pear salsa recipe I was right away interested. This should accompany seafood. I can a spoonful of this atop a crab cake or some grilled jumbo shrimp.

Pear Salsa

1 1/2 pounds of firm but ripe pears
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh lime juice preferably from Mexican (Key) limes
1 large serrano or jalapeño with seeds, minced
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for several hours before using.

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