When thinking of Washington farm products, most of us think of apples. Washington is known as the largest apple producing state in the country. Did you know that Washington farmers are also the top producers of pears?
Apples are a wonderful fruit and I enjoy many varieties of them, but if we were going to do true confessions I'd have to admit pears are my favorite tree fruit. They've been my favorite for as long as I can remember, going all the way back to childhood. When I was in my twenties, I can still vividly remember the time at a friend's house in Alaska when I first tasted fresh pears with Gorgonzola cheese. I think I may have swooned.
When I eat pears, I usually eat them raw, whole or sliced. I've never really cooked with them very much, so I decided it was time to do a little research. Here's a summary of what I found about common varieties:
Anjou Pears: Anjous have a firm texture and mild flavor. They can be green or quite red when ripe.
Asian Pears: These have the crunchiest, firmest texture of all the pears. Their flavor is very mild.
Bartlett Pears: For sweet juiciness, Bartlett's lead the pack. If you want to make pear juice, Bartlett is your best bet. They're usually green or yellow skinned, sometimes with a rosy blush.
Bosc Pears: Boscs will stand up well to cooking, and are only a little less crisp than Asian pears. They have a sweeter flavor, though, and a russet colored skin. They are good raw, too, and don't need to be peeled to be enjoyed.
Comice Pears: Most pears tend to be a little grainy in the mouth, but Comice has a smoother texture and a strong pear flavor.
Seckel Pears and French Butter Pears: Both of these are known as extraordinarily sweet and wonderful pears to eat raw. If they aren't perfectly ripe, though, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about.
For cooking, if you want a pear that keeps its shape and doesn't fall apart, Bosc is considered the best option, followed closely by Anjou. If you are making sauce or butter and you want the pear to fall apart while cooking, Bartlett is the very best. As the Bartlett's juice is released the pear slices disintegrate quickly and easily into a soft mush.
This year I've had mostly Bosc pears in my kitchen, with just a few Bartletts and a dozen Seckels that arrived yesterday and are still ripening. I bought some Boscs at Full Bloom Farm's produce stand here on Lummi Island with the hope of canning some for the winter. However, my family ate most of them raw before I could get the canning gear out of the pantry. Yesterday, though, a friend brought me a big box of Boscs from a tree at her sister's home, which produced a bumper crop of fruit this year. I got four quarts canned tonight and will probably get eight more quarts done tomorrow. Hooray!
Boscs were first planted in this country around 1832 or 1833 in the eastern U.S. and those plantings first bore fruit in 1836. Now they are grown mostly in the Pacific Northwest, in Washington and Oregon.
Because Boscs are one of the firmer pears, and because of the russeting of their skin, it can be a little challenging to tell when Boscs are ripe. Most sources I found suggest testing the neck of the pears, the part a quarter to a half inch just below the stem at the top of the pear. If you push there gently with your thumb, you should feel a little give if it's ripe. The rest of the Bosc will be firm like an apple.
Bosc have a strong enough pear flavor that they are not easily overwhelmed by other ingredients, so are popular for cooking. They are perfect for grilling, roasting, baking, poaching and sautéing - any cooking method where you want the pear slices to stay in one piece. Common flavoring ingredients used with Boscs are wine, mint, thyme, sage, basil, and non-locavore spices (i.e., not grown in Whatcom County) such as cinnamon or nutmeg. As with most any pear, strong cheese flavors make a delicious contrast to the mild and sweet pear flavor.
For today's recipe below, I chose a vinegar reduction for a tart contrast to the sweet pear, some hazelnuts to add a roasted crunch, and some basil as an earthy note to warm up the pear's brightness. I recommend you be sitting down when you taste it. You might swoon!
SAUTEED PEARS WITH VINEGAR REDUCTION
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Bellingham)
1 Tbsp butter (homemade with cream from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
2 Bosc pears, stems and cores removed, cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick (Full Bloom Farm, Lummi Island)
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped (I used a combination of regular basil and Thai basil from my home garden, Lummi Island)
2 Tbsp roasted hazelnuts, chopped (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the apple cider vinegar to a simmer. Reduce heat to low so it will continue to simmer gently. Stir occasionally, until about one third of the vinegar is left in the pan. Remove from the heat.
While the vinegar is reducing, put the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. When it has melted and is bubbling, add the pears. Sprinkle with the chopped basil, reserving about half to sprinkle fresh on the pears just before serving. Sauté the pears until the edges start to brown on the bottom side, then turn slices over and continue to sauté until the other side begins to brown as well. Remove from the heat.
Arrange the sautéed pear slices on a plate or in an individual serving bowl. Drizzle with the vinegar reduction and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts and reserved fresh basil. Serve immediately while warm.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com
Reach NANCY GING at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, "like" Whatcom Locavore on Facebook (facebook.com/whatcomlocavore) and "follow" on Twitter, @WhatcomLocavore. For locavore menus, recipes, and more resources, read her blog at at whatcomlocavore.com.