Pears are one of the signature fruits of autumn, and a nice change of pace from summer's delicate fruits and berries.
Though there are thousands of varieties, Bartletts are the best known. They're recognized by their shapely bottoms and long necks. They arrive rock-hard at the grocery store. Most pears ripen off the tree, and Bartletts are no exception. They're picked in August and September when mature but still firm and available through December-January, according to the USA Pears Web site, www.usapears.com. Given time, Bartletts turn from green to yellow and their flesh from crunchy and tart to creamy and super sweet and juicy -- perfect for eating out of hand. If the neck near the stem yields when pressed, it means the pear is on its way to ripening.
Firm, ripe pears are what's needed for these recipes. Softer pears will turn mealy as they cook. Pears can be used in place of apples in any recipe. The advantage of using pears is that they let other flavors shine. That means you can really taste the touch of cardamom and apricot jam in the pie. Pears also have more fiber than apples: 5 grams to an apple's 3 grams. A medium-size pear, though, has more calories: 98 calories versus an apple's 81.
Makes 20 to 30 pear chips
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup water
2 underripe pears
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
In a medium size saucepan, combine the sugar, 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and continue to simmer while slicing the pears.
Slice the pears 1/16-inch thick using a mandoline. Immediately immerse the pear slices in the boiling sugar. When the syrup has resumed a rapid boil, remove the slices with a slotted spoon to a plate. When cool enough to handle, place slices on a pan lined with parchment paper. Make sure slices don't touch or overlap. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Once chips take on a dry appearance, remove one from the oven and allow to cool on the counter. If it's crispy once it's cooled, it's ready.
The chips will keep for two weeks, or longer if refrigerated.
This recipe is from "The Sweet Life: Desserts From Chantrelle," by Kate Zuckerman (Bullfinch Press, $35). A KuhnRikon Quick Slice Mandoline sliced the pears quickly and evenly.
PEPPERY PEAR SALSA
Makes 6 8-ounce jars
1 cup white vinegar
8 cups coarsely chopped cored, peeled pears
3 red bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 green bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare canner, jars and lids.
In a large steel saucepan, combine vinegar and pears. Add red and green peppers, sugar, salt, mustard, turmeric, allspice and black pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5minutes. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar.
Screw band down until resistance met, then increase to finger-tip tight. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process 8-ounce and pint jars for 20 minutes. Remove canner lids. Wait five minutes to remove jars.
Cool and store the salsa.
This recipe is from "Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving," by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine (Robert Rose, $19.95).
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
½ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ½ cups coarsely chopped firm ripe pears
Non-stick baking spray
In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add eggs, sour cream, butter and vanilla to flour.
Using an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat for 1 minute, until blended. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula. Beat on medium for 1 minute.
Gently stir in pears.
Spread batter evenly in 13-by-9-inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick baking spray with flour. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
This cake is delicious -- not too sweet -- without a crumb topping. Camilla V. Saulsbury suggests a crumb topping made with ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup packed light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and 1 ½ cups chopped walnuts.
Using fingertips, blend ingredients until crumbly and sprinkle evenly on batter before baking.
This recipe is from "Piece of Cake! One-bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes," by Camilla V. Saulsbury (Robert Rose, $29.95).
Makes 1 pie
4 tablespoons apricot preserves
5 cups firm ripe Bartlett pears (about 6 or 7)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and cardamom
2½ to 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
3 tablespoons butter
Unbaked pastry for 2-crust pie
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie plate with half the pastry. Mix pie ingredients, dot filling with butter and top with remaining crust. Vent the top of the pie. Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Check for doneness by sticking a fork into the fruit and checking for tenderness.
Pears will soften but remain firm when baked into a pie. The juices in this pie will not bubble up as in a peach or cherry pie, so less tapioca will result in a juicer filling.