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Pears just don’t get the love that apples do, and I really don’t understand why, because they pair (pun intended) so beautifully with so many different flavors. I can’t imagine a cheese plate without them, especially the small Forelle or Seckel varieties. They may be sweet-as-sugar, lightly vegetal, juicy or crisp, but there are myriad ways to put them to good use, raw or cooked.

Pear photo by Julie Chernoff

Pears mostly come into season in October, and you can test their ripeness with gentle pressure of your thumb near the stem; it will yield slightly when the pear is perfectly ripe. Keep them at room temperature until they ripen and then refrigerate. Skin on or off? That’s entirely up to you. The skin will help a ripe pear hold it together once cut, and in recipes that call for fresh, uncooked pears, it adds pleasing color to any dish. Given their distinctive 3-D teardrop shape and deep green or red hue, you can use them for holiday decoration in a special bowl, marching single-file down the center of the table, or even on the mantle piece. Here are some ideas for how to cook with pears while they are at the peak of their season.

Whip up some pear butter. When I get a big box of Harry & David pears as a gift, my thoughts turn immediately to this delightful spread. Peel, core and dice three pounds of ripe pears and place in a medium saucepan with a scant ¼ cup of honey, the juice of ½ a lemon, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon each of ground ginger and ground cardamom, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and a pinch or two of ground nutmeg and cloves. Bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 45-50 minutes with the lid left slightly ajar. Stir every 10 minutes or so, but make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. After the allotted time, remove from heat and mash the solids with a potato masher; alternately, let cool a bit then put in a food processor and purée smooth. Transfer to clean glass jars, seal and refrigerate. Will keep for a week or two. Try it on your favorite toast spread with ricotta or goat cheese and a sprinkle of chopped almonds or toasted hazelnuts.

Poach ‘em in red wine. In a one-gallon saucepan, combine 2 cups of red wine (I like a zinfandel or merlot for this) with 1/3 cup sugar, 2 thick strips of orange zest, ½ cup of fresh orange juice, a cinnamon stick and a few whole cloves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Peel 4 firm-but-ripe pears — Bosc work well here —leaving stem intact, and slice a bit off the bottom to make a flat surface. Place pears in poaching liquid, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, turning pears half-way through to get plenty of gorgeous color all around. Once done, let cool in the liquid, turning occasionally, then remove pears from cooking liquid and chill. Strain liquid to remove spices and zest, then reduce cooking liquid at a decent boil until it seems thickened and syrupy. I love to serve these pears with a scoop of ice cream or some vanilla yogurt, drizzled with the wine syrup.

Toss ‘em with fennel and pecans in a refreshing salad. This is a great Thanksgiving side dish, and an enlightened take on a Waldorf salad. In a salad bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and plain Greek yogurt. Whisk in ¼ cup of olive oil and season to taste. Thinly slice some fennel, celery, and pear (I like a green Anjou for this) and halve some green grapes. Add to the dressing in the salad bowl along with some chopped toasted pecans and chopped fennel fronds or fresh dill. Toss and serve.

Make a cranberry-pear salsa. Coarsely chop a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, then combine in a medium bowl with 2 peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped pears, a half cup of diced cucumber, a minced jalapeño or serrano pepper (remove seeds for less heat), a good squeeze of fresh orange juice and some zest, ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon of olive oil, some chopped cilantro, and a few tablespoons of honey. Combine, then season to taste with salt. This is THE salsa for your day-after-Thanksgiving turkey quesadillas or nachos.

Toss with leftover fried chicken, gorgonzola and pecans for an out-of-this world salad. I like this one family-style, so I put it together on a long platter. Slice leftover fried boneless chicken breast and/or thighs and place on a bed of arugula. Scatter with sliced pears, toasted pecan halves, and crumbled blue cheese (if you must, substitute goat cheese, feta or even Parmesan shards). Make a quick vinaigrette with a minced garlic clove, chopped small shallot, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, ¼ cup of red wine or apple cider vinegar, ½ cup of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake in a jar with a lid and drizzle over the top of the salad; serve extra on the side for people who really dig dressing.

Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.

The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that showcase pear varietals in all their glory.

Baked by an Introvert’s Chai Pear Scones https://www.bakedbyanintrovert.com/chai-pear-scones/

Food52’s Pear and Almond Cake https://food52.com/recipes/31073-pear-and-almond-cake

Smitten Kitchen’s Winter-Spiced Old Fashioned https://smittenkitchen.com/2014/12/fairytale-of-new-york/

Food Network’s Roast Pork Loin with Pears and Cranberries https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/roast-pork-loin-with-pears-and-cranberries-3361639

Sugar Hero’s Puff Pastry-Wrapped Pears with Chocolate Espresso Sauce https://www.sugarhero.com/puff-pastry-wrapped-pears/

Julie Chernoff

Julie Chernoff is a freelance food and culture writer and the longtime Dining Editor of Make It Better Media. She loves all things Evanston and has lived here since 1989.

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