- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The pear in the United States is almost as popular as its cousin the apple. Perhaps one reason pears are not consumed in quite the same quantities as apples is that they’re not as sturdy. They quickly become mealy if left to ripen on the tree, and they have a much shorter storage life.

Because they are picked before ripening, pears are a plan-ahead fruit. They will usually be sold hard in the market and need additional ripening at home to soften and reach prime flavor.

Making things even more challenging is the fact that it is difficult to recognize that brief prime time when a pear should be eaten.

So we often end up with either the heartbreak of slicing into a not-yet-ripe pear (which can easily be mistaken for a baseball) or of biting into a pear that has ripened too long and gone to mush.

Here are some pointers: Buy ripe, undamaged pears, and handle them carefully until you get them home. Ripe pears will give under gentle pressure at the stem end, depending on the particular variety.

Crisp Bosc and firm Anjoupears never get as melting or fragrant as Bartlett or Comice, so keep this in mind when buying.

Avoid pears that are soft at the bottom; are shriveled at the stem end; sport dark, soft spots; or are in any way even a little dinged up. Small surface blemishes, however, are usually inconsequential.

You can ripen pears in two ways, frontward or backward.

• Leave them at room temperature out of direct sunlight until they give a little when gently squeezed. Refrigerate them for no longer than a day or two before eating.

• Or do the reverse: Immediately refrigerate the pears until you are ready to ripen them, then remove them from the refrigerator several days before you plan to eat them and let them ripen at room temperature out of direct light.

Don’t leave them in the refrigerator for too long in either case.

Pears go beautifully with a combination of sweet and savory partners, so I had a lot of fun coming up with this recipe, which plays with ingredients on both ends of the flavor spectrum.

Keeping in mind that pears tend to fall apart when sliced, this recipe cuts them only once right down the middle, so they can stay intact and, if packed well, become portable.

Serve fancy stuffed pears as a lunch treat with fresh pumpernickel bread and a green salad.

Or wrap individual fancy stuffed pears in plastic wrap and pack them in your family’s lunchboxes.

Fancy stuffed pears

3 medium-size just-ripe pears (Anjou, Bartlett or the firmer Bosc)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice, divided

cup ricotta or cottage cheese

1/3 cup packed grated sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons finely minced parsley

2 tablespoons finely minced chives or scallions, greens included on scallions, if desired

1/3 cup finely minced walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, optional

Salt, optional

6 dried apricots

Slice pears in half lengthwise. Carefully cut out the cores and brush open surfaces with 2 tablespoons of the lemon or lime juice.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the ricotta or cottage cheese and the cheddar.

Add parsley, chives or scallions, walnuts or pecans, Worcestershire sauce, remaining tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, and salt to taste (if desired). Mix well.

Generously spoon a mound of filing onto each pear half, smoothing the top surface with a dinner knife. Slice the apricots into little strips and decorate the top of each filled pear with an inspired design.

Makes 6 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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