October is one of the most beautiful months here in Iowa. Everything green has gone golden, the air is fresh, skies seem a clearer blue, and winter still seems a distant memory. In the orchards, the trees are heavy with fruit, and in the market and at stands along the road, bushel baskets overflow with squashes, apples, pears, and pumpkins.
For the best results, use good quality ripe fruit. An underripe, mealy, or tasteless raw apple or pear will not improve much with cooking. Apples should be firm, flavorful, and with the exception of the Rome apple, crisp and juicy. Unless a particular type is specified, for cooking use Granny Smith, Jonathan, Rome, or Winesap apples. McIntosh, Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious apples are good in salads or for eating raw.
To pick a good pear, sniff the base (not the stem end). If it has a pear smell, it will taste better than an odorless pear. The pear should be firm but not rock hard. Pears will ripen if put in a paper bag and left at room temperature for a day or so. Buy slightly underripe or just ripe pears—slightly overripe pears are fine for soups, crisps, or breads only. D’Anjou is the best cooking pear. Bartlett, Bosc, and Comice are better for salads and eating. Asian pears are very crisp and are nice in salads. Some people substitute them for jicama.
Another apple and pear tip: unless you need a whole or halved apple/pear for your recipe, the easiest way to core and peel these fruits is to first quarter the fruit and then cut out the core and peel each quarter. Place cut fruit in water with lemon juice in it to avoid discoloration. Drain and pat dry before using.
Sour Cream Apple or Pear Pie
Easy and quick, especially if you have a pie crust already made in the freezer.
Sour Cream Mixture:
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1-1/2 c. sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg or cardamom
1/2 tsp. finely chopped lemon or orange zest
3 c. sliced apples or pears
Pastry for 1 single-crust 9″ pie
1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. butter
1/3 c. sugar
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix all ingredients for sour cream mixture together.
3. Place pears or apples in pastry-lined pie pan and pour sour cream mixture over them.
4. Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 30 minutes.
5. Mix together topping ingredients.
6. Remove from oven and top with topping mixture.
7. Turn oven back to 400 degrees. Return pie to oven and bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool before serving.
Apple-Rosemary Tea Bread or Muffins
(Two small loaves)
3/4 c. milk
1/2 c. raisins, coarsely chopped or
1/2 c. currants
4 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. unsalted butter
2 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1/3 -1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1-1/2 c. unbleached white flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two mini loaf pans (51/2 x 21/2 x 2″) or muffin pan. Set aside.
2. Heat milk to scalding. Remove from heat and add raisins or currants. Stir in 4 Tbsp. butter and let cool.
3. In a small saute pan, melt remaining 1 tsp. of butter. Add apples and 1 Tbsp. of sugar and cook till apples are glazed and somewhat softened.
4. Combine flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk the egg into cooled milk mixture.
5. Add the cooked apples to dry ingredients but don’t combine. Pour milk mixture on top of the dry ingredients and apples and mix with a few quick strokes, just until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix.
6. Fill prepared pans to about half to three-quarters full. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool. Serve drizzled with honey or with whipped honey-butter.
Variation: Pear Ginger Bread—Substitute pears for apples and 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger for 1 tsp. rosemary. Serve with cream cheese or butter sweetened with maple syrup or honey.
Pears made this way are quick and versatile. The recipes below make two different colored pears. Try serving small ones of each color, or half an average-sized pear on a slice of pound cake nestled on a mound of whipped cream. Also delicious with caramel sauce and ice cream.
Red Wine Poached Pears
1 bottle of dry red wine or non-alcoholic wine or grape juice, or 4 cups water
1/2 tsp. anise seeds
Zest of 1 orange
2 whole cloves
1/4 -1/2 c. sugar (if using water, increase sugar)
4 firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled with stems left on
1. Combine all ingredients except pears in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 20 to 30 minutes until the pears are tender but not mushy. If necessary, rotate the pears gently by the stems so that they cook evenly.
2. Remove the pears, bring the poaching liquid to a rapid boil and cook until it is reduced by half. Pour the syrup over the pears and serve if you’d like a warm dessert. Or chill for 6 hours or overnight.
Garnish: To make a nice garnish, take a single fresh mint leaf and stick it into the pear next to the stem so that it looks like a leaf off the pear tree. If you like, toasted almonds, hazelnuts, or pistachios chopped medium-fine are good taste combinations with pears and make a crunchy garnish.
White Wine Poached Pears
1 bottle of dry white wine, non-alcoholic white wine, or white grape juice, or 4 cups water
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 – 3/4 c. sugar (if using water, increase sugar)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean
4 firm but ripe Bartlett pears peeled with stems left on
Directions are the same as for Red Wine Poached Pears.
Killer Combinations: White poached pears set on blackberry sauce, sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts, or with raspberry sauce and toasted almonds.
Pear Waldorf Salad
If you don’t want to make the dressing, a shortcut would be to mix the lime juice, Dijon mustard, chopped lime zest, and fresh pepper with mayonnaise to taste. Adapted from a recipe in the New Basics Cookbook by Russo and Lukins.
1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 firm ripe pear (Bosc or D’Anjou)
1 Asian pear
1 stalk of celery, split lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 carrot, peeled & cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. golden raisins
1-1/3 c. Creamy Lime Dressing (recipe follows)
1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp. shelled sunflower seeds.
1. Mix water and lemon juice in a large bowl.
2. Quarter, peel, and core the pears and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Put into bowl of lemon water. Leave in bowl for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry. Place in a mixing bowl.
3. Add the celery, carrots, walnuts, and raisins to pears. Toss with lime dressing, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. (You can let it come to room temperature before serving if you wish.) Mix well and garnish as desired.
Creamy Lime Dressing
(Makes 1-1/3 cups)
2-1/2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. corn or safflower oil
1/2 c. light olive oil
Grated or chopped zest of one lime
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Place lime juice, eggs, and mustard in food processor and process for 15 seconds. With the motor running, slowly pour the oils through the feed tube and process until the dressing has thickened.
2. Transfer to a bowl and add lime zest and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Ginger Pear Soup
(Makes 4 servings)
Toni D’Or served this soup at her dinner club. A subtle blend of sweet and savory, this rich soup is fabulous with homemade croutons served on top.
8 ripe D’Anjou pears, peeled, cored,
and coarsely chopped
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
2-3 Tbsp. butter, unsalted
2 c. heavy cream or half & half
4 c. vegetable stock
Freshly ground pepper
1. Place butter in large saute pan over medium heat. When melted, place ginger and pears in pan and saute for 3-4 minutes stirring constantly till pears start to release juices. Turn down the heat and cover. Let cook for 10-20 minutes till thoroughly cooked and tender.
2. Place in food processor and puree with 1 cup vegetable stock until very smooth.
3. Transfer to soup pot. Add rest of cream or half & half and stock. Heat to desired temperature but do not boil. Serve with freshly grated pepper and croutons.
Apple Rosemary Soup—Substitute apples for pears. Substitute 2 tsps. chopped fresh rosemary for ginger.
Curried Apple Soup—Substitute apples for pears, ghee for butter. Use ginger and add 1 Tbsp. curry powder or more to taste.
Vegetable Fruit Soup. Substitute carrots and winter squash or parsnips for part of fruit.
More Good Combinations
• ginger, black pepper, anise, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange zest
• blackberries & raspberries, dried fruit
• toasted walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pine nuts
• bleu cheese, feta
• green salads
• cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon zest, mint
• apricots, berries, rhubarb
• same nuts as above
• cheddar, bleu, any mild cheese
• green salads and slaws
• Apples and cranberries, or pears, anise seed, and orange zest in a crisp or pie.
• A salad of bibb lettuce, toasted almonds, sliced pears, and crumbled feta.
• Pears or apples baked in cream with figs or dates and a cinnamon stick.