Fall Salads – Pairing Pears and Nuts
About the time the first leaves start to fall and the evenings get a little cooler, I make a major change in my diet. The grill gets covered and the lighter summer meals are replaced with soups, stews, and baked dishes. I still eat plenty of salads but my ingredients change with the seasons.By October much of the domestic field production in tomatoes has finished (except for Florida which we don’t see much of here in California) and while there is plenty of import and green house product, I prefer instead to use what Mother Nature provides in abundance in the fall. There are no better additions to the fall salad than new crop pears and nuts.Pears are very difficult to grow and need exacting conditions to grow well enough for commercial sale. So while you may see a very short local season of older cooking varieties (like Seckel, Forelle, and Kiefer) most of the pears we enjoy in the fall and winter are from California and the Pacific Northwest. As is the case with apples, South America and New Zealand supply the U.S. with new crop pears in the spring and summer.Here’s a rundown of the pears you will commonly see at your local market:
Anjou: This is the most commonly grown pear in the US. Most folks don’t realize that while the Anjou can be eaten firm (it is picked hard so it will store well) it is far better if you let it ripen at room temperature for a few days after you have purchased it. It will not change color but the fruit will soften from the stem side down as it ripens.Bartlett: Also produced in large quantities all over the west coast, the Bartlett does not store as well as the D’ Anjou so it has a shorter season. Going from green to a lemon yellow as it ripens, Bartlett’s can have great flavor but a slightly grainy texture.
Bosc: A stand out from other pears for their shape, color, and texture- the Bosc is a pear does not need to be soft to be eaten. This firm sweet pear has a density that makes it ideal for cooking – the Bosc is a favorite for poaching.
Comice: Originating from France this pear is now grown primarily in Southern Oregon. Renowned for its sweetness and buttery texture, the Comice is a favorite in November and December. Like the Anjou the Comice is harvested and sold firm to prevent bruising- its best to buy them a few days before you need them and ripen them at home.
Red pears: From late August through November we see several varieties of red pears come off the trees. The earliest variety is the Red Crimson, followed by red versions of virtually all the major green varieties (Bartlett, Anjou, even Comice). Most red varieties retain the same characteristics as their green counterparts so if you have a favorite green pear chances are you will like its red cousin.Asian: Among the oldest cultivated tree fruit, the Asian pear is a bridge between apples and pears – combining the juiciness and flavor of pears with the crunchiness of apples. There are two very broad variety types in Asian pears, the brown honey varieties (Like Hosui, and Kosui) and the green/ yellow varieties (like 20th Century and Shinseki). Both have the same juicy crispiness but have very different flavor.Concorde: A newcomer to the pear scene the Concorde is a cross between the European Conference and Comice pears. This early variety ripens like the Anjou and Comice (wait until it is soft near the stem) and does not change color like the Bartlett.About the same time pears come off the tree, we see the new crop of nuts (and seeds) start to arrive. I like to take the best of what the fall offers and find new pairings for my salads. There are literally hundreds of variations and all of them are wonderful. Remember to sprinkle some lemon juice on your pears after you cut them — this enhances the flavor and prevents the fruit from turning brown. Light pan or oven roasting your nuts also brings out their flavor.