“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.” This quote, from Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, knows a thing or two about maturity, and harvest, and how we humans are a part of nature despite all efforts to scrub away that connection. When I walk into the driveway of Ukiah’s Pear Tree shopping center, stepping over rotten fruit run over by cars, even then I stop, look up into the canopy, and think of those lines. Pears are not just in season, they’re a part of our local life and history, the continuity that got us to now.
Pear trees were once the symbol for Ukiah, though that gave way to the oak tree at the level of city government and certain C. sativa variants more colloquially. But you can still find local pears, and they’re worth the effort. Picked hard and allowed to ripen, they’re a succinct class in paying attention to what you eat. Bite it too soon and you might as well be eating drywall; let it sit too long and you’ve got ferment and fruit flies to contend with. In the sweet spot? Tender flesh with just a hint of crunch left, and that tremendously sweet, richly perfumed juice. Pears are great for canning–a nice way to set aside a bit of summer for the off-season–but as with tomatoes, a fresh one is just incomparable.
Nutritionally speaking, pears are high in dietary fiber, and vitamins B-6 and C. Their sweetness makes them ideal for topping cereal or cooking into pear butter to spread on toast, but they can add a perfect counterpoint to some savory foods as well. There are brie lovers and those of us who run at the thought of it, but I nevertheless find any pungent soft cheese to be great when paired with pears. The saltiness of prosciutto would most likely also shine when wrapped around a sliver of fruit. If that’s all too classy for you (it is for me), swap out peaches and apples and make a humble pear crumble, or simply chop one into your favorite coffee cake recipe, adjusting for the added moisture.
A pear-shaped physique, where the hips are wider and the belly somewhat smaller, is thought to be more heart-protective than a rounder, apple-like figure. In parts of the world, the expression “pear-shaped” means things have gone dreadfully awry, though the discussion of how that expression evolved has itself gone somewhat pear-shaped, leaving us all to wonder. What’s even stranger is that there are pears that are themselves not pear shaped at all; Ukiah’s farmers market has had some outstanding Nashi, Asian, or apple pears, so named for their apple shape and pear taste. I’ve been chopping them onto my muesli and munching them out of hand, and they’re the perfect fruit to nosh as summer gives way to fall, crisp, juicy, almost a bit starchy; breakfast’s answer to the water chestnut, perhaps. If you like to make quick pickles, they are a perfect choice to hit with some salt, vinegar, and a dash of pepper.
Consider the quotation associated with the pear-bearing card in the Mexican bingo game Loteria: “La Pera: El que espera desespera. The Pear: He who waits despairs.” Well, wait for them to ripen at least, but then seize the day with both hands, and feed the effort with pears. Here are a few ways to try them:
Add pears to any Thanksgiving baked yam recipe (even the ones with marshmallow fluff? ESPECIALLY those ones!). They get on like a house afire and your actual home will smell amazing while they cook.
Pears love ginger. Ginger loves pears. Don’t keep them apart or they will eventually pull some Montague-Capulet attitude on you. Infuse water with pear and ginger slices, or add ginger to pears poached in wine with other fall spices. Basically all fall cooking is some variation on spices and slices, so start here and have fun with it.
RealSimple.com has a recipe on their website for peanut-sesame noodles with shredded chicken and pears that sounds like a hoax, but would probably be delicous if you were inclined to try it.
Add thinly sliced pears to a grilled cheese sandwich. No, really. You can thank me later.