Our friend Abbey appeared at my kitchen door lugging a crate of Luscious pears. That's the name of this local variety and it couldn't be more perfect. Fragrant, gently sweet, Luscious pears are delicious fresh, and when cooked, they melt quickly into a sauce. The fruit from Abbey's trees was on the verge of becoming overripe and she was happy to share her harvest.
It's been a great year for pears (apples, too) with even temperatures through the growing season and just enough rain. The Luscious variety is smaller, sweeter and juicier than West Coast pears. Find them in our local co-ops, farmers markets and orchards, but please, don't wait.
Pears are one of the few fruits that will ripen nicely after they're picked. To do so, put them in a brown paper bag for a few days. You'll know they're ripe by their perfume and the soft spot near the stem. (Underripe pears are hard, flavorless and grainy.) A pear that refuses to ripen but stays hard with an off color was probably picked too soon.
Most recipes call for peeled, cored pears because the skin can be grainy and distracting. Fresh pears are delicious chopped and tossed into a salad or thinly sliced and layered on pizza or tucked into a sandwich. Who doesn't love pear crumble or tart?
Pear sauce and pear butter are so easy they hardly need a recipe. I rely on my slow cooker to do the work of simmering the pears down overnight. Fill the slow cooker with peeled, cored, chopped pears and add either cinnamon sticks or grated fresh ginger to taste. Cover and set on high and allow to cook until the juices have released. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the sauce has reached the consistency of soft butter, about six to eight hours. To make a savory sauce, stir in chopped rosemary or sage before serving.
Fresh, uncooked pears do not freeze well. Pear sauce, butter, chutney or conserve are better ways to preserve them.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis author and cooking instructor.