Friday, September 21, 2012

Use it or Lose it - Homegrown Pears

Walnuts and pears, you plant for your heirs.

Have you heard this expression before? Apparently, it is an old English adage that eludes to the decades-long wait you could expect between planting and harvesting fruits from a pear or walnut tree. Although advances in grafting techniques and selective breeding have nearly done away with this agonizing wait, in generations past, you might reasonably expect to wait up to 20 years for your first harvest, which made planting a slow-growing fruit tree an act of implicit optimism.

Whoever planted our pear and apple trees, however long ago, thank you. They've brought us, our critters and assorted visiting wildlife much delight and sustenance.

I don't know what we did right, in fact, I don't know if we had anything to do with it at all, but this year, our little orchard really outdid itself. For the first time since we've lived here, the pear tree had an honest-to-goodness crop, about 20 pounds of fruit.

Twenty pounds may not seem like all that much, and in farming terms, it really isn't. But, keep in mind that all twenty highly-perishable pounds come ripe at the same time, and you find yourself with a 5 day window, give or take, in which to use up your bounty or lose it to the compost heap.

I hemmed and hawed for a few days before starting in on my pears in earnest, and just last night, finally used the last of them up. Here's how I used them-

Pear Fruit Leather (I did not add any sugar, as it was totally unnecessary, and I used my little dehydrator instead of my oven. Otherwise, my process was the same.)

Pear Upside-Down Cake
(adapted from Nectarine Upside-Down Cake by Full Circle)
My modifications are noted by *

-10 tbsps unsalted butter, room temperature
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-4 cups pears, peeled and halved, with stem and blossom ends trimmed off, and cores removed*
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour**
-1 1/2 tsps baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp sea salt
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-2 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla extract***
-1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 4 tablespoons of butter in a cake pan or oven-proof casserole dish, and melt in oven. When melted, sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top. Arrange pears in one even layer in bottom of pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat remaining 6 tablespoons butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, followed by extract. Begin adding flour mixture in small amounts, alternating with additions of the plain yogurt. Mix well between each addition. The result should be a very thick, pasty batter.

Pour over pears and level with a spatula. Bake until cake is dark golden brown, and passes the toothpick test, about 60 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife gently around the sides before carefully inverting the pan onto a serving plate. Delicious while still warm or served cooled the next day. :)

*I use a melon baller for this
**I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour, because I like the lightness and silkiness that cake flour brings.
***I used pure almond extract instead. Pears & Almonds=Peas & Carrots ;)

Pear Upside-Down Cake, fresh from the oven

Besides making leather and cake, we also ate some pears fresh and gave some away. I'd wanted to hold back a few to make Martha Stewart's Pear Frangipane Tart, but had neither almonds nor rum to hand, so it'll have to wait for another day, or another year, depending on whether or not I somehow come into some more pears before next Fall.

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