There is no in-between with pears. Underripe and the late-fall fruit is hard, astringent and tasteless; overripe and it’s gritty and bland. At peak, a good pear is one of the finest fruits, perfumed, melting and luscious.
All pears are harvested before they’ve fully ripened to protect their delicate nature. It’s in the kitchen where they’ll progress — if we’re patient.
The best way to ripen pears is to set them in a paper bag with a banana. The paper allows the pears to breathe, and the banana’s natural ethylene gas expedites the ripening.
Pears are capricious. Be vigilant; blink and you may be too late. Because pears ripen from the inside out, you can’t judge their readiness by looking at the skin. To test, press with your thumb near the stem end and if it gives slightly, it’s most likely ready.
Store ripe pears in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. They’ll stay fresh for several days.
Pears are one of those rare fruits that are as delicious cooked as they are fresh, and poaching is one way to make them last. When poached, pears keep their flavor, stay juicy and become glowingly transparent. They’re wonderful on oatmeal, stirred into yogurt, served alongside roast chicken, game and pork, or filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate. Stored in their poaching liquid, these pears will keep for a couple of weeks.
While many poached pear recipes call for peeling and cooking the fruit whole, it’s easier (and just as pretty) to halve and core it unpeeled. The pears will absorb the flavor of the poaching liquid — wine, fruit juice or, in this recipe, a strong, snappy ginger ale. Once the pears are gone, simmer the leftover poaching liquid into a syrup to make the flavors last even longer.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Ginger-Cranberry Poached Pears
Serves 4 to 8.
Note: Light, bright and elegant, these are delicious served with ice cream, over pound cake or for breakfast with yogurt and granola. Once you’ve enjoyed the pears, simmer the leftover poaching liquid into a tart-sweet syrup (see instructions below). From Beth Dooley.
• 4 pears, cored, stems left intact
• 1/2 c. cranberries
• 1 small lime sliced
• 1 bottle strong ginger ale (about 1 1/4 c.), or more if needed
Put the pears into a deep 9- to 10-inch skillet. Add the cranberries and lime and pour in the ginger ale. Set over medium heat, bring to a low boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the pears and cranberries, turning and basting occasionally, until they are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. (If the liquid seems too low, add a little more ginger ale or water.) Store the pears and cranberries in the poaching liquid in the refrigerator for up to a week.
To make ginger-pear-cranberry syrup: Strain the poaching liquid through a sieve into a small pot and discard any leftover cranberries and lime. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup has reached desired consistency. Use a splash in bubbly water, cocktails and tea; drizzle over ice cream or yogurt, or whisk into a vinaigrette.