Gift of a Christmas pear

comice beauty shot USA Pears (1026x1280) Meet Comice, courtesy USA Pears

“This is going to take a long time to ripen,” she said, putting down the rock-hard fruit.

Ah, the problem with pears. Because this shapely fruit ripens from the inside out, it must be picked while still firm, leaving pear lovers patiently awaiting that magic moment when our favourite fruit is at its sweet, luscious peak of ripeness.

This year, I’ve fallen hard for the Comice from Oregon. The aristocratic French pear, first cultivated in the mid-1800s under the name Doyenne du Comice, is considered the sweetest and juiciest of all winter pear varieties with its fine-textured flesh and rich, buttery flavour. It’s also called the Christmas pear, beloved in gift baskets and used as a decoration.

Comice is easy to spot — look for a squat, plump pear with a short neck and deep dimple on the bottom. It ranges in colour from dark lime green to a blushing red.

Because it’s so thin-skinned, Comice may look a little scuffed, but it’s still perfectly delicious inside. Just leave it sitting pretty on the counter for a few days and check the neck regularly for ripeness.

Fibre Optics

Pears contain an amazing amount of fibre — 6 grams in a medium-sized pear. That’s about 24 per cent of our recommended daily intake. Since most of the fibre is contained in the skin, add unpeeled chunks or slices into your smoothie, soup or salad. Pears are also sodium-, cholesterol and fat-free, and a good source of vitamin C. Once they’re, ahem, ripe they’re also convenient, portable and delicious!

Buy & Store

  • Comice pears are available from September through January.
  • Sobeys is promoting U.S. pears, including Comice, for the next month. You may also find it in other chains and independents.
  • All pears bruise easily, even when hard, so handle carefully.

Peak ripeness

  • Leave firm, unripe pears at room temperature to ripen.
  • While a Bartlett’s skin colour turns yellow when ripe, most pear varieties show little change in colour.
  • The best way to determine a pear’s ripeness is to check the neck. Apply gentle pressure to the neck (stem end) with your thumb. When it yields to pressure, it’s ready to eat.
  • Very firm green pears may take a week to 10 days to ripen, while riper ones might need only a few days, so check the neck daily.
  • Eat a ripe pear immediately or refrigerate up to five days.
  • To speed up ripening, place under-ripe pears loosely in a paper bag or place in a fruit bowl with bananas or apples, which also naturally give off ethylene gas.

Prep

  • Wash pears under cold water just before use.
  • To prevent sliced pears from browning, dip in a solution of half water, half lemon juice.
  • If you end up with over-ripe pears, blend into smoothies, soups, sauces and purées.

Serve

  • Smoothie: For the ultimate grab-and-go breakfast, in a blender place 1 large Comice or Anjou pear, cored, 2 cups milk or alternate, ½ cup quick-cooking oats, 1 cup frozen blueberries and 1 tsp cinnamon. Purée at high speed until smooth and creamy.
  • Salads: Pears pair well with bitter greens such as endives.
  • Pair slices of ripe pear with prosciutto for an appetizing first course.
  • Comice’s mild flavour matches blue cheese such as gorgonzola or cambozola, as well as Camembert, Manchego and aged Cheddar. Serve on a cheese plate with walnuts and hazelnuts.
  • Add diced pear when making sweet potato or butternut squash soup or roast in the oven with squash.
  • Serve with pork or duck.
  • Pears and almonds make a heavenly combination.

pear-quinoa-breakfast-custard USA Pears- (1280x852)

courtesy USA Pears

Pear-Quinoa Custard

Adapted from USA Pears, this tender vanilla and orange-scented custard with its smoky quinoa and ripe pears makes nutritious and satisfying breakfast or snack. It’s even good without the dried pears.

5 dried pear halves, chopped (check bulk store)

¾ cup quinoa, rinsed, drained

1 ½ cups water

3 eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

1 ¾ cups half and half (10%) cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 medium orange

¼ tsp salt

2 ripe Comice or Bartlett pears, cored, cut in ½-inch chunks

Preheat oven to 350F.

In medium saucepan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Stir in quinoa and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, while you prepare remaining ingredients.

Whisk eggs and sugar in large bowl. Add cream, vanilla, orange zest and salt, whisking vigorously to combine. Gently stir in dried pears, cooked quinoa and fresh pear chunks and mix well.

Pour custard into a 2-litre baking dish. Place in a roasting pan and carefully pour hot water into pan to reach halfway up sides of the baking dish. Bake about 40 minutes or until custard is just set — jiggly but not watery in the centre.

Remove custard from water bath and let cool 10 minutes before serving hot or warm.

Makes 6 servings.

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