The Perfect Pear
Pears aren’t so much maligned as they are sidelined, with many people simply forgoing them without really knowing why. But pears are plentiful in Colorado, and a perfectly ripe pear is a thing of gastronomic greatness
Humble, varied, diverse and delicious, yet overshadowed globally by the apple and in Colorado by the peach, too, the pear is largely ignored. But for those in the know, the pear is a magical fruit that swings both ways - cooked it diverges from the apple with heady aromas of ethyl decadienoate while raw and slightly under ripe they add crunch while ripe pears are best eaten with juice flowing down your arm.
In culinary circles, the pear is most famously poached, but caramelize some wedges in a pan with butter and sugar, top with shortcrust or puff pastry, bake and then turn upside down and you have a dessert that would wow the Tatin sisters themselves. Unadulterated, pears are the perfect foil for cheese - a chunky sliver of slightly under ripe pear with salty blue cheese is the perfect partnership - and when fully adulterated, by way of juicing, fermenting and distilling, they yield a liquor that is a joy to the taste buds and a delicious, and for many altogether new kind of, social lubricant.
Poached pears are the classic pear preparation, but once you realize how versatile they can be the world is your...well, pear.
For bright and warm autumn Colorado days, consider elevating the pear and blue cheese wine accompaniment above to a meal by layering slices of pear with chunks of blue cheese and walnuts on salad leaves then drizzling with honey and a little extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle over some fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper. Serving with toasted bread makes this a filling meal.
Cooler Colorado autumn nights beg for a little spice, and pears are more than willing to be the medium. Pears are a great accompaniment to meat when married with spices like cinnamon and clove. Fry slightly under-ripe pears that have been peeled, quartered and cored in butter with the aforementioned spices as well as a generous grind of black pepper. Great with game or even lamb, but some will find this irresistible served over vanilla ice cream. Try the same spicy preparation with a pear Tarte Tatin.
Barclay Dodge, chef and owner of Bosq in Aspen (see our profile on page 51), is a big fan of pears and uses them in a variety of ways including this very chefy way. “At Bosq, we love to lacto-ferment pears and use the juice that results during the process as a vibrant, slightly acidic seasoning to add to sauces, vinaigrettes, and dressings. We take pears (leaving the skin on) and cut them into 1” pieces, add two percent salt by weight of the pears then cryovac in sous vide bags and hold in a fermentation chamber set at 30˚C for 4-6 days. Afterwards, we remove the pears from the bags, extract as much juice as possible through a chinois and reserve the juice.”
Ripe pears give up their juice at the merest touch, yet while they are great for juicing, they rarely are. At least not at home. However, pears have a long and storied history when it comes to the magical process of turning juice into booze. Fermenters and distillers all over the world have for time immemorial celebrated with perry and fortified themselves through long, cold winters with brandies and the like. In Europe, spirits like shlivovitza and rakija are sometimes made from pears and in Croatia kruskovac is pretty much exclusively made from them. For those who love to show off their liquor cabinet, Poire William is an after-dinner drink that is consumed in various parts of France and Germany that often includes an entire pear inside each bottle, a feat achieved by attaching the bottle to a budding pear tree so that the pear grows inside the bottle.
And Colorado’s very own Peach Street Distillers have perfected the same technique for their Pear Brandy which won a gold medal at the American Distilling Institute’s 2020 Judging Awards earlier this year and gold at the American Craft Spirits Association Awards for best brandy in the United States. Pears grown a few blocks from the distillery in downtown Palisade are pressed, fermented, and distilled onsite before being aged in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
Sure, you can sip Peach Street’s Pear Brandy over ice and enjoy the utter pear-iness of it, or you can follow in the footsteps of bartenders around the world who have used pears to make both original cocktails and interesting takes on classics. If you’ve never heard of the Kentucky Pear or the Juliette, maybe it’s time to up your cocktail game.
Then there is perry. Also known as pear cider, perry has been common for centuries in parts of the UK as well as France. Perry producers in Colorado include the Colorado Cider Company which produces Pearsnickety, a seasonal made with Colorado-grown Bartlett pears; Stem Ciders have a pear and apple cider made from Bartlett pears; and Snow Capped Cider from Cedaredge have the slightly more exotic JalaPEARño.
You can even mix the two. Although no name exists for the product of fortifying a perry with an apple spirit, doing so with apples is known as pommeau in France.
And that’s not all. Where there are pears, there are pear products. Ela Family Farms in
Hotchkiss sell pear jam made from organic pears from their orchards in addition to offering farm tours and fruit packs, and for those that want to make a day of it, you can pick your own pears and turn them into any and all of the above. The Colorado Farm Fresh Directory from the Colorado Department of Agriculture is a great resource for places to pick your own, but it also has a list of farmers’ markets, roadside stands, restaurants and agritourism activities!
The Perfect Pear - Pears are one of the few fruits that don’t ripen on the tree. When they are ripe, they are delicate and easily damaged, which all means that the pears you get in the supermarket are almost always under ripe so be prepared to wait a little while - but not too long as they tend to go quickly from hard to mush. A better idea is to go to your local farmers’ market or orchard and ask when they were picked or even pick them yourselves. You’re likely to find less common varieties this way, too.