It is striking me funny that in a column about food memories, I usually start out not remembering the first time I experienced a specific food, or technique. These food memories develop over time, stories adding up layer upon layer, until the current product is like a tarte or cake: a wonderful melange of flavors and textures. As a child, I remember seeing these wonderful boxes of Harry and David pears that someone would send to my parents around Christmas. Each pear was settled in its own little nest to protect it from bumps and bruises. The delicious aroma of the pears would develop around those boxes, as the pears ripened, and my father would dole them out when he felt they were ready (or if we kids had been sufficiently good). That was the beginning of my understanding that pears required patience for proper appreciation. I later learned that those Harry and David Royal Riviera Pears were from the Rogue River Valley, one of my favorite places in Southern Oregon. A special variety of the Comice pear, they are known for great sweetness, when allowed to ripen properly, after they were picked in the fall, stored and shipped properly. Oh how I remember those pears, and then finding them again in France and Spain, where the Comice, Anjou and Williams (Bartlett) pears are celebrated...in fact in certain areas they make an eau-devie of pears (Poire Williams) which is bottled with a Bartlett pear that was grown inside the bottle. You can be sure that impressed this young boy the first several times he saw it! Although it was several years until my parents knew that I tasted it before they allowed me to...but that is another story (or two).
So back to the melange of memories...
It was several years later, when I was living in Paris, going to cooking school that I really got to taste and compare the different varieties of pears. My favorite is a toss up between the Bartlett and the Comice.
The Bartlett has a thinner skin and a more delicate flavor and texture; they are also the ones used commonly for preserving or canning. The Comice is similar to the Anjou, a little thicker skinned and dense. But when any one of them is ripe-you just can’t beat them.
And when properly ripe and juicy they may need to be eaten over a bowl or sink to catch the drippings. And I will admit that the original Baby Blue Salad that I served at Homewood Gourmet may indeed have had pears and Gorgonzola as ingredients, because they go so marvelously well together...but there goes that memory thing again...just layers on layers on layers...and since my taste buds have gone through some changes recently I might just do it a little differently right now for myself...maybe some Cambazola triple cream blue cheese, with the ripe Bartlett pear shaved over it, maybe a sprinkling of slivered almonds and a light spritzing of aged balsamic vinegar. I might possibly add a little julienne of prosciutto or country ham to bring up the saltiness...Or I might poach the pear as in the recipe below, but what ever you do with that pear, you must have the patience to buy it and let it ripen at home for a few days. You must have the patience for the pears!
White Wine Poached Pears (serves 8) (This recipe can also be done with red wine or port) 4 good sized pears, ripe but not too ripe 3 cups granulated sugar 1 or 2 vanilla beans 6 cups white wine, not too sweet 2 lemons, cut in half
Combine the sugar, vanilla beans and wine until sugar is dissolved.
Peel the pears, rubbing with the lemon to prevent discoloration.
Cut the pears in half and scoop out the core with a spoon or a melon baller, again rubbing with the lemon.
Drop each pear half in the warm syrup.
Bring to a simmer and cook for about ˝ hour and test the pear by sticking it with a sharp knife. It should be soft. Allow the pears to cool in the liquid, as they will continue to cook and the flavors will mellow. When cool, remove the pears, and reduce the poaching liquid by half and serve over the pears, possibly with some vanilla ice cream.