In Praise of Pears (and Five Ways to Eat Them)

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I've got no beef with apples. They have earned their position as the go-to fruit. But why should they hog all the fall glory? Why don't people go pear-picking, or bobbing for pears, or bake pear pies? In my opinion, pears are just as versatile as their cousins in the Rosaceae family, and have a subtler, more complex flavor.

Also, although I love the expression "to go pear-shaped," meaning to go wrong, I disagree with the negative connotation. From a still-life artist's standpoint, the eccentrically and elegantly shaped pear, with its frequently freckled skin in shades of green, yellow, red and brown, is far superior to the blandly round apple as a subject. And cardiologists agree that pear-shaped is preferable to apple-shaped, at least when it comes to body types.

According to USA Pears, the Northwest pear growers' association (Oregon and Washington grow more than 80 percent of the nation's pears), I am a little early in celebrating their product—National Pear Month isn't until December. But most varieties of American-grown pears are already in season, including plump Anjou, dimpled Bartlett, adorable Forelle, russeted Bosc, and Concorde, long-necked as a runway model.

Enough with the admiration. Here are five good ways to eat pears:

1. With cheese. Pears and cheese are such a natural and classic pairing that there is even an Italian saying— "Do not let the peasant know how good cheese is with pears"—that inspired food historian Massimo Montanari to write a book. Brie, gorgonzola, sharp cheddar and goat cheese are all good possibilities—my favorite combination is a strong-flavored firm cheese with Bartletts (which I think taste the most "peary" of the common pears)—or see USA Pear's pairing guide.

2. In a pie. Turns out I was wrong—some people do bake pear pies (they also probably go pear-picking, in the places that grow pears, but I have yet to hear of anyone bobbing for pears). Grant Achatz, the acclaimed Chicago chef and restaurateur often associated with the American molecular gastronomy movement, gave Food & Wine magazine a straightforward recipe inspired by his mother's pies.

3. Poached. Peeled and poached in wine, water, ginger tea or pomegranate juice, pears make a simple and elegant dessert.

4. In a Chutney. Pears aren't common in South Asian cuisine, but they stand up nicely to Indian spices, as in this pear chutney by Indian TV chef Sanjeev Kapoor.

5. Baked into Chips. Sliced ultra-thin, sugared and baked for an hour or so, pears (and apples, if you like) make a crunchy snack.

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