Ingredient SpotLight

Pears are a relative of the apple. One of the earliest written histories or records comes from Homer's reference to them as "Gifts from the Gods." Pears can be eaten and used in a lot of the same ways as the apple. One distinct feature of the pear besides the shape is the soft texture. This soft texture is the result of the starch converting to sugar after being picked from a tree to ripen.

There are several varieties of pair including Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Forelle, and Seckel. These fruits have a sweet, rich flavor and come in a variety of colors including green, golden yellow and red. Among these varieties there are only subtle differences in flavor and texture.

Selecting pears can be easy if you consider the following: avoid pears with bruises or cuts and dark brown colors; purchase pears while slightly green because they ripen better and faster off the tree; look for pears with a smooth unblemished skin; ripe ones will yield slightly to gentle pressure at the stem end. If you plan to bake pears, select those that are fairly firm.

If pears are unripe, place them in a paper bag at room temperature for 2 to 3 days or store them in a ventilated fruit bowl in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate as soon as they ripen. Ripe pears should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag up to 3 days. They continue to ripen after harvest.

Here, for your enjoyment, are a couple of my favorites. Enjoy them while pears are at the peak of their season.

Spinach, Pear and Feta Salad

  • 2 pears, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup diet lemon-lime soda
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing

Place the pears in a bowl with the lemon-lime soda. Set them aside; this will keep them from turning brown.

Place the baby spinach in a serving bowl, and add the shallot, feta cheese and pine nuts. Drain the pears, and discard the soda. Add the pears to the salad, and toss to blend. Serve with the raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Fruity Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange, peeled and pureed
  • 1 apple - peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 pear - peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 cup chopped dried mixed fruit
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, boil the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to simmer, and stir in the cranberries, pureed orange, apple, pear, dried fruit, pecans, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst. Remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. Serve on its own or over a block of cream cheese for a special spread.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes