Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Pears have arrived in the market

From poaching to chutney, pears lend themselves to a wide variety of recipes

There seems to be an over-abundance of pears at the markets right now; and like apples, to which they are related, pears come in thousands of varieties, of which only a small fraction are grown in Canada.

Their fine, slightly granular flesh is much more fragile than apples and, unlike most fruit, they improve in flavour and texture after they’re picked.  Pears are very delicate and bruise easily when ripe, so always buy slightly underripe (firm but not hard), then ripen at home. They ripen from the inside out — when they’re ready they should give a little at the base. Avoid pears that are mushy or bruised. For a wonderful dessert try poaching pears in any flavourful liquid, whole or sliced. Poaching is gentle stove-top cooking, and winter pears are ideal candidates since they keep their shape. Poaching also improves the taste of mild flavoured pears, and the longer the pears sit in the flavourful syrup after poaching, the better they’ll taste.

Today I have a vanilla poached pear recipe and a pear chutney for you to try.

Vanilla Poached Pears

1 (750-ml) bottle white wine, Riesling or Viognier (can use de-alcoholized)

1 cup water

5 ounces vanilla sugar, approximately 3/4 cup

1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped

4 firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled leaving the stem intact

Place the white wine, water, sugar and vanilla bean and pulp into a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Core the pears from the bottom. Decrease the heat to medium low and place the pears into the liquid, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the pears are tender but not falling apart. Maintain a gentle simmer. Remove the pears to a serving dish, standing them upright, and place in the refrigerator.

Remove the vanilla bean from the saucepan, increase the heat to high and reduce the syrup to approximately 1 cup of liquid, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Do not allow the syrup to turn brown. Place the syrup in a heatproof container and place in the refrigerator until cool, approximately 1 hour.

Remove the pears from the refrigerator, spoon the sauce over the pears and serve.

Marilyn’s Pear Chutney

3 pounds fresh Bartlett pears (about 7 cups), unpeeled, cored and diced

1 pound brown sugar

2 cups cider vinegar

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup diced, preserved ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons mustard seed

Combine brown sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the pears, onion, raisins, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, cinnamon, cloves and mustard seed. Cook slowly, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is thick, about 1 hour.

Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Chutney may also be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.

Use as a relish with lamb or ham or as an appetizer with cream cheese and crackers.

Yield: 5 half-pint jars

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.