After a cool wet summer followed by a far too early cold and snowy fall, we should be completely inured to the reality of an Alberta winter. Put the reverie of perpetual summer aside (at least until January!), and find solace in the best place possible, your kitchen. It’s time for festive gatherings with family and friends, cozy fireside snacking and everything in between. Embrace winter!

Despite seeing pears since late summer, I consider them a winter staple. Unlike most other fruits, pears must be harvested under ripe and kept in cold storage before ripening slowly at room temperature. This goes a long way toward protecting this otherwise easily damaged ripe fruit from the perils of travel and handling. This is good news for the consumer, but does require some determination to arrive at pear nirvana. Pears can be refrigerated for a few days, but beware, this will all too quickly diminish both texture and taste. Ideally, keep them in sight and check daily, applying gentle pressure to the stem end for that slight give indicating ripeness.

There are thousands of varieties, but much like apples, we see too few. Bartlett pears are early and don’t keep especially well, but are a good choice for both cooking and eating out of hand. The much sturdier D’Anjou is easy to cook with, but lacks that quintessential pear aroma and flavour; Bosc, firm-fleshed and golden, long-necked and slightly russeted is a better choice, in my opinion, for poaching and just cooking in general. The pretty, rosy-cheeked Seckel pear, small and spicy, is perfect for poaching and pickling whole. Sadly, not easily found, the Doyenne d Comice (meaning best of show, essentially) is true pear heaven. The Comice has silky, luscious flesh with a heady fragrance… absolutely wonderful with cheese. Unfortunately, this pear prima donna does not travel well and only a few stalwart grocers will risk bringing it in.

Poached Pears

Pears can be used anywhere you would use apples; butters, chutneys and jams; pies (tarte Tatin), cakes and muffins; and on to many savoury applications. Pears pair particularly well with pork and a splash of the pear eau de vie, Poire Williams wouldn’t go amiss in the sauce. Here’s a riff on poached pears done in the oven, with thanks to Elizabeth Baird.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours

Ingredients

  • 6 ripe but firm pears
  • ¼ t. freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ t. lemon zest
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. white wine I like a Gewurztraminer
  • 1 t. lemon juice

Instructions

  • Peel and neatly core (think melon baller) pears.
  • Place 6 halves in the bottom of a deep heatproof dish.
  • Stir nutmeg and lemon zest into sugar.
  • Sprinkle half the mixture over the pears.
  • Add the other 6 halves and sprinkle them with the remaining half of the sugar mixture.
  • Add white wine and lemon juice and cover tightly with foil.
  • Bake for about 2 hours at 325 F.
  • Let cool, still covered, until room temperature, then chill well.
  • Serve in clear glass coupes or bowls with custard or whipped cream.