The “Luscious” pear is decidedly well named so don’t be put off by its dowdy demeanor. Despite its small size, rust color and spotted skin, this fruit is sweet, juicy, lush and fragrant.
Our local Luscious pear trees blossom splendidly in the spring and produce prodigious amounts of fruit in the early fall. They are often overlooked when displayed next to the pale gold Bartlett or blushing Red Anjou, but they are a better choice, the perfect pear for baking, simmering into sauce, or caramelizing along with a pork roast. If you have a dehydrator, sliver them into rings and make pear chips and pear leather.
You’ll find piles of Luscious pears at the farmers markets and food co-ops. Choose pears that are just a little tender but not hard or overly soft. If they’re still too firm and underripe, put them in a paper bag on the counter for a day or two at room temperature to ripen. You’ll know when they’re ready by the slight softness on the stem end and their subtle pear scent. At this point, they can be refrigerated to slow the ripening process. Once they are ripe, enjoy them quickly, within five days.
Pears have lots of potential as appetizers, salads, sandwiches and sweets:
• Stuff slices with blue cheese and wrap with prosciutto.
• Slice and toss them in a salad of arugula with a light vinaigrette.
• Layer slices into a grilled cheese sandwich (with sharp Cheddar cheese).
• Toss slices into the skillet when sautéing pork or chicken.
• Add chunks to a bread pudding with golden raisins.
• Layer slices on top of your favorite shortbread cookie recipe (see recipe).
• Use pears in your favorite applesauce recipe; cook down further and make pear butter.
The skin of the Luscious pear is so tender it dissolves when cooked so I never bother to peel these pears. The exposed flesh, like that of apples, will quickly oxidize and turn brown, so a quick dip in acified water — 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of water — will prevent discoloring.
This simple fall dessert bar, sparked with rosemary, is easy, sophisticated and ready in no time. Top it with honey-sweetened whipped cream or a thin wedge of very sharp aged Cheddar cheese to serve with coffee or tawny port. This is a perfect pairing (or shall we say “pearing”?).
Pear-Rosemary Cornmeal Shortbread
Makes about 8 large or 12 smaller bars.
Note: Rich and crumbly, these bars make a terrific afternoon treat with coffee or tea, or a fine finish to dinner, topped with whipped cream or sharp aged cheese. They will keep, stored in an airtight container, about a week. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 c. butter, softened
• 2/3 c. sugar, plus 1 tbsp. to sprinkle over bars
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, divided
• 1 1/2 c. flour
• 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
• 2 to 3 pears, cored and sliced 1/4-in. thick
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Lightly grease a 9- by 13-inch baking pan or deep dish.
In a medium bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and half the rosemary, until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Gradually add the flour and cornmeal, beating just until blended.
Turn the dough out into the prepared baking pan and, using your hands or a spatula, smooth the dough to fill the pan. Lay the pear slices over the dough. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and sugar.
Bake until set and the edges have lightly browned, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove and score into bars while warm. Allow to cool in the pan, then remove with a spatula.
Nutrition information per each of 12 bars:
Carbohydrates 32 g
Protein 2 g
Fat 16 g
Saturated fat 10 g
Cholesterol 40 mg
Sodium 120 mg
Total sugars 14 mg
Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 1 carb, 3 fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.