Ingredient SpotLight

Pears are autumn's juiciest fruit at my home. My husband doesn't like them ... until I let them ripen on the counter, slice them and add them to everything from salads to muffins to simply laying them on a plate and setting them in front of him! Suddenly, this "boring" fruit is a juicy, sweet treat.

Pears are gathered from the trees before they are completely ripe and are allowed to ripen in storage. Cold retards ripening, and heat speeds it. Pears are eaten fresh and canned. The best North American pear-growing districts are in California, Washington, and Oregon and, to a lesser degree, in the northern United States from New England to the Great Lakes and in lower Canada. Pears are among the most popular fruits grown in home orchards in the United States.

Pears contain about 16 percent carbohydrate and negligible amounts of fat and protein. They are good sources of the B-complex vitamins and also contain vitamin C; in addition, they contain small amounts of phosphorus and iodine. While they are best known for fresh eating and baked goods, they are surprisingly good paired with roasted pork or added to autumn-inspired salads. They also pair very well with strong cheeses and are a welcomed addition to a fine cheese plate. Consider putting together one as the end to your Thanksgiving meal.

If cheese and fruit seems too untraditional for Thanksgiving dessert, consider instead making this great pairing an appetizer for your special day. While the rest of your meal is coming together, these simple tarts literally take minutes to make and are definitely a crowd pleaser.

Blue Cheese and Pear Tartlets

  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 ripe pear - peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons light cream
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 (2.1 ounce) package mini phyllo tart shells

Prebake the phyllo shells according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

Mix together blue cheese, pear, and cream. Season to taste with pepper. Spoon mixture into cooled shells.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

  • Yields: 15 servings
  • Preparation Time: 35 minutes

Poached pears makes an elegant dessert. While some are served warm, this rendition is a chilled treat. Allow at least 2 hours to fully chill it, although it's perhaps best made the evening before you intend to serve it.

Orange Poached Pears

  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange, cut in strips
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored, and quartered lengthwise

In a large saucepan combine orange juice, water, sugar, zest, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Add pears and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, until pears are tender. Put pears and syrup in refrigerator until thoroughly chilled.

Serve pears with sauce spooned over, garnished with orange zest. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves, if desired.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus chilling time

Fruit crisps are a great way to get nutritious fruit in your diet. This simple one pairs pears with gingersnap cookies for a great flavor combination. It's also a great way to use those broken cookies that inevitably end up in excess during the holidays.

Ginger Pear Crisp

  • 1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3 peeled ripe pears, cut in half, or use 1 can (28 ounces), drained
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix together the crumbs, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter. Place half of the crumb mixture into a buttered 8-inch round baking dish. Place pears on the crumb layer, cut side up. Sprinkle with lemon juice and remaining crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes