You know it's fall when the pears are perfect — subtly sweet and so ripe that when you take a bite, sticky juice flows down your arm. Local pears with names such as Luscious and Moon Glow are easy to love.

When choosing pears, look for unblemished pears with stems still attached and a light perfume aroma. Unlike apples, pears ripen beautifully off the tree. They're nice even if still a bit crisp. When cooking pears, you can get away with some that aren't at peak.

Pears ripen from the inside out; set them on the counter in a basket to allow for air flow. They're ready when they're slightly soft at the blossom end and lightly wrinkled at the stem. That's when to refrigerate the pears in a plastic bag for up to three days. Before serving, bring them back to room temperature to enjoy their full flavor.

The pears at our farmers markets are irresistible right now, so load up. Don't be put off by the rusty or mottled-looking skins or smaller size of our local pears compared with those shipped in from far away. Those local flavors are concentrated, bright and intense.

Some cooks prefer to peel their pears first, but I find this step unnecessary, especially when I cook them, because the peel seems to melt away.

Pears are even more versatile than apples in the kitchen. But like apples, they tend to brown quickly once sliced. If you are preparing them in advance, hold the slices in acidified water (1 teaspoon of lemon juice to 3 cups of water) until ready to use.

Too many pears in your kitchen present delicious possibilities:

• Serve sliced or roasted pears with sharp cheese and cured meat. Layer them into sandwiches of ham or turkey; toss them onto flatbread with rosemary.

• Substitute pears for apples (or use a mix of both) in sweet applesauce or apple butter. Serve over pound cake or swirl into vanilla yogurt and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

• Simmer a savory pear sauce with thyme or sage to serve alongside pork or lamb. Maple- and ginger-spiked pear sauce is exceptional with smoked turkey and roast duck.

• Add sliced fresh pears to a pot of curry.

• Toss fresh pears into a salad of endive with a sharp vinaigrette.

• Bake diced pears in hollowed-out acorn or butternut squash based with a little honey.

• Dessert? Pear crumble or tart or crisp with rum-spiked whipped cream.

Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at

Pan Roasted Pears with Shallots and Crumbled Blue Cheese

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Roasting pears takes them a step further into their "pearness." That quick blast of heat caramelizes their natural sugars so they become darker and more robust. Roasted (or pan-roasted) pears will keep in the refrigerator in a covered container for at least three days. Try this combination with shallots alongside roast pork or chicken, or serve on dark greens and drizzle with a light vinaigrette. If you omit the shallots, the roasted pears are great served for dessert spooned over vanilla ice cream or on top of poundcake. From Beth Dooley.

• 4 to 6 slices of baguette

• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for baguette, divided

• 1 medium shallot, peeled and diced

• 3 to 4 pears, cored and cut into 1/2-in. slices

• 4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

• Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush lightly with extra-virgin olive oil. Bake until the bread is nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Spread 2 tablespoons oil over medium-sized skillet to cover surface, and set over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until they're just translucent, about 3 minutes; remove to a plate and set aside.

Add the pears and cook until they just begin to color and turn them carefully with a spatula, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Place the toasted bread on a platter and layer on the shallots and pears, then top with the crumbled blue cheese. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with the cracked black pepper.