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Purple Onion Pears

Pears are far more diverse than most of us realize, with a range of tart and sweet varieties, and pair well with wines like the one shown here from The Wine Shop.

Now is the time for pears. Juicy and sweet, soft and homey, pears are a great fruit to eat out of hand. Yet, they are more versatile than many people think. After all, besides pears poached in wine or maybe cut up in a crumble, how many other recipes do you see for these sweet fruits? At The Purple Onion, we carry a selection of Anjou, Bosc and Bartlett pears that can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

Each variety of pears, like apples, is different. Some are better eaten out of hand, added to a salad or baked than others. While their flavors are delicate, they have nuanced differences as well.

Anjou pears, for instance, are sweet and juicy with a hint of citrus, and the red Anjou pear is a bit more aromatic than its green counterpart. Green Bartlett pears are quite juicy and are the signature pear flavor that many of us know well; red Bartlett pears have a floral essence. Bosc pears are crisp with a honey sweetness.

Other pears that you might have the opportunity to try are Comice, which are buttery and exceptionally sweet; Forelle, which are crisp and tangy; Seckel, which are crunchy and sweet bite-sized pears; and Starkrimson, which are aromatic and moist.

You can enjoy any pears raw. When you are cooking with pears, you have to consider your recipe. If you want pears to hold their shape for baking, poaching or grilling, look for the crispest raw pears like Bosc or Anjou. If you’re making pear butter or a sauce, go for the Bartlett pear — which will turn to mush under the slightest heat. You could consider combining both types of pears, just like you do apples in some recipes. For instance, a combination of Bartlett and Bosc pears in a pie would give you pears that hold their shape in a lovely pear sauce.

We have two suggestions for baked pear desserts. The Red Anjou Pear Pie highlights the fruit’s delicate and sweet taste. This recipe is made easy with a store-bought pie crust, but no one will say no to a pie made with your no-fail pie crust recipe. The easy Drop Biscuit Pear Cobbler with Dried Cherries is a great recipe to make with the kids and we think hits just the right note for a family dinner or potluck party.

There are many foods that are complemented by — and that complement — the delicate sweetness of pears.

Apples come to mind when you think of fruit pairings. Blackberries, cherries, lemons, oranges, limes, cranberries, dates, figs, raspberries and rhubarb are good partners, too.

Take your quick bread baking in another direction by putting aside the zucchini and apple bread recipes and give the Pear Bread recipe here a try. Delicious on its own, it can make a sweet sandwich with a smear of cream cheese mixed with chopped dates or dried cranberries.

In salads, arugula, celery, endive, fennel and light greens are good matches. Parsnips, shallots, spinach and squash are also good buddies in baked or cooked recipes that include pears. For a savory pear entrée, give the Grilled Stuffed Pear a try. With quinoa, chorizo and arugula, this pear will show you how well the fruit pairs with stronger ingredients.

When it comes to dairy, buttery tastes like butter, cream, crème fraiche, ricotta and mascarpone are delightful with pears. On the other end of the dairy spectrum, tangy feta, goat cheese, Parmesan and yogurt make good partners as well. Start your morning with the Ricotta Toast with Pears and Honey recipe shown here and you’ll feel good about the day. You can use any pear for this recipe and, if you want, you can switch the honey for maple syrup for a fall flavor.

Take pears to the dinner table with this Pear and Gorgonzola Cheese Pizza. Slice it small for an appetizer if you want, but we think you’ll enjoy it as a main dish. Once you’ve tried it, you can experiment with other pear pizza combos. Pears, caramelized onions and brie with a drizzle of honey comes to mind.

Pears and vanilla are great partners. This fruit also likes warm spices like allspice, anise, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. They also pair well with zippy tastes like black pepper, chives, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. The Curried Cashew, Pear and Grape Salad that we share with you has great texture and demonstrates how pears partner with warm spices for a satisfying and still light lunch salad or dinner starter.

When shopping for pears, do not be surprised to find that they are often hard and green. This is because pears are a unique fruit that ripen best off the tree. They are transported when they are mature, but not always ripe. They are easily ripened once you get them home.

If the pears you purchase are ripe when you get them home, you should use them soon or refrigerate them for up to five days in the refrigerator — but remember that the fruit will not ripen in the refrigerator so you will need to give it time to do so before you eat it. If pears need to be ripened, leave them out at room temperature in a bowl on your kitchen counter or in your dining room or living room where you can enjoy seeing them while they ripen.

How do you know when they are “pearfectly” ripe? Bartlett pears will turn from green to yellow as they ripen. Non-Bartlett pears such as Anjou and Bosc varieties do not dramatically change color. Pears ripen from the inside out, so check the neck to find out if they are ripe. Gently press near the stem with your thumb. When it gives to gentle pressure, you’ve got a ripe and juicy pear that’s ready to eat. If you wait until the pear is soft around the middle, then it will be overripe.

Overripe pears, by the way, are still delicious. While they aren’t ideal for serving whole or sliced, you can use them in smoothies and sauces. And, they are a tasty thickening agent for soups, stocks and stews. They could become your new secret ingredient in some fall dishes!

Lastly, on top of being tasty, pears are good for you. A medium pear has five grams of fiber, or 20 percent of your daily need, and its flesh contains pectin, which helps lower LDC (“bad” cholesterol). Pears’ soluble fiber can boost your immune system, promote healthy digesting and regularity.

Pears, like apples, have antioxidants that are known for cleaning up body-damaging free radicals. Get about 10 percent of your daily vitamin C by adding sliced pears instead of jelly to your breakfast toast or tossing the pears in your lunch salad. That will help you absorb iron that is required to produce red blood cells. The vitamin K found in pears is essential for normal blood clotting. The trace mineral of copper found in pears will help you maintain a healthy central nervous system. In the brain, copper ions are responsible for making neural synapses-junction that allow nerves to communicate and that affects our ability to learn and remember.

Allan Hathaway is the owner of The Purple Onion and WV Marketplace at Charleston’s Capitol Market. For more information, visit the web pages at capitolmarket.net/merchants/purple-onion and capitolmarket.net/merchants/wv-marketplace; call The Purple Onion at 304-342-4414 and WV Marketplace at 304-720-2244. Email Allan at purpleonionco@aol.com.