It was a very hot summer day when the air stood still and made me feel as if I was suspended in a bubble. My body felt heavy; lifting my arms was difficult. For the first time in my life I was completely aware of my body not functioning properly.
While crossing the lawn at the back of my grandparents’ home, I felt a breeze touch my cheeks and a sigh of relieve came with my next breath, it made me walk quicker to get into the shade of a big pear tree in the corner of the yard.
Looking up into it’s fruit laden branches with the sun blinding my eyes I could see the branches silhouetted against the sky in a dark mass of bending lines. The leaves looked pale in the bright light and reflecting the occasional water droplet still waiting to be evaporated by the sun’s rays.
The golden pears were hanging off the branches like bags of gold, so heavy that they seemed ready to break loose any moment. One fell to the ground splattering its juices like a fountain. It fell just in front of my feet covering me with its sweet and fruity flesh. Scraping up the incredible sweetness off the ground and filling my mouth with its goodness made me feel thirsty for more. I was only seven years old.
There are over five thousand varieties of pears grown throughout the world in temperate climates.
The best tasting pears come from France, and in the United States most of the crops come from California, Oregon and Washington. Pares range in shape from spherical to bell-shaped, and in color from celadon green to golden-yellow to tawny red. Ripe pears are juicy and depending on the variety, can range in flavor from spicy to sweet and to tart-sweet.
The pear is easily bruised and therefore is better if it is picked green. The flavor will improve when you let it ripen at room temperature and then
refrigerate the ripened fruit.
Buying Pears In The Grocery Store
Choose pears that are fragrant and free of blemishes and soft spots. It is not necessary to peel the pear before eating, but if it is peeled then brush it with lemon juice, as the pear’s flesh quickly discolored.
For Cooking, choose fruit that is still quite firm
Bartlett is the most commonly found pear in the United States and therefore most popular. Its season is from late July through October. The pear was developed in the 18th century by and an Englishman and introduced to America by Dorchester, Massachusett’s resident Enoch Bartlett.
Comice is the best pear for eating; it is fine-textured and has a juicy flesh with an aroma similar to wine. The best Comice pears come from Oregon and northern California. They are available from October to January.
Bosc is a winter pear and the most practical to cook with. It’s russet color will yellow somewhat when completely ripe, but will not soften like other pears. To test for ripeness squeeze the long, graceful neck for tenderness. When fully ripe it is very sweet and full of fragrance. It holds its shape well when baked or poached. It is available from October through April.
D’Anjou is widely grown in the US. It is the least flavorful of all the pears, but it keeps the longest. It is available throughout the winter months, from October through mid-winter and is very good for cooking.
One of my favorite cakes is the ……
Austrian Pear Cake!
Our Austrian friends in Kapfenberg, Steiermark, often invited us on Sundays for Nachmittag’s Kaffee, Afternoon Coffee. The Keffee and Kuchen, Coffee and Cake, was served in an Arbor, shading us from the afternoon’s son. On one of those Sunday’s Tante Paula, Aunt Paula, serve a Birnen Kuchen, a Pear Cake.
Many years later here in America I came upon this Pear Cake recipe in a German Magazine, and it has become one of my very favorite cakes. Every time I make it I remember fondly the kindness and love these friends extended to us, the refugee family from Croatia.
3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 to 2 lemons – depending on the size of the lemons
1 tsp Vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 cup milk
2 lbs of Bartlett pears (about 4 to 6 medium size)
1 cup powdered sugar
4 Tbsp Triple sect, or juice of 1 lemon
Set the oven at 350 F
Prepare an eight inch spring form by greasing and dusting it with flour.
Peal the pears and slice each quarter into three sections.
In an electric mixer or hand mixer beat the butter and sugar until very light in color, and very fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the zest of the lemons and Vanilla. Mix the flour with the baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter, sugar and eggs alternating with the milk. Mix well until it becomes a smooth, soft dough.
Transfer half of the dough to the spring form and smooth it onto the bottom of this baking pan.
Add half of the pear sections in a circle starting around the outer edge of the pan until you finish in the middle.
Add the rest of the dough on top of the pears, smooth it out and add another layer of the pears on top…the same way in a circle until you finish in the center. Be generous with the pears it make the cake pudding-like, moist and delicious.
Bake the cake at 350 F for about 1 hour and 15 minutes…..or until a toothpick come out clean.
Cool the cake completely then transfer it onto a serving platter.
There are several options to glaze the cake:
Make the Lemon Glaze with the above recipe…..it is really delicious.
Softly whipped heavy cream sweetened with powdered sugar….before serving.
Drizzle the cake slices with honey just before serving.
I have tried all three versions, and I cannot tell which one I like best…..actually it all depends on what you have in the refrigerator or the pantry………..I have not tried dribbling a warm chocolate sauce over the slices , but I think I will try it the next time I make this wonderful and versatile cake. Because with each topping it actually becomes another pastry. If you make the cake a day ahead to be served …you can leave it on the kitchen counter – covered loosely with wax paper.
Maja/Maria Reisz Springer
Share with me one of your favorite fruit pastries….
It would be lovely to hear from you!
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