The madness came upon me again last week as I bit into the first Asian pear of the season. I was entranced, enthralled, captivated by the delicate pear flavor, the crisp texture and the extreme juiciness of the just-picked exotic pear. Later I shared the fever with Tony.
“Wow,” he said after a bite. “Wow, wow, wow!”
Weather zonked the local Asian pear crop last year, so I hadn’t tasted a really good one in two years. The Asian pears in supermarkets and even the handful I found at a farmers’ market are wan imitations of the ambrosial fruits grown by Paul and Brenda O’Neill at their Weymouth Farms and Orchard just north of Granger Township in Hinckley. The O’Neill’s are among the very few Asian pear growers in Ohio, and the only commercial grower north of Columbus that I could find.
Asian pears are considered the forerunners of European varieties such as Bartlett and Anjou. They are round and crisp like an apple but with the flavor of a pear. The flesh has a smooth rather than pebbly texture, and the thin skin can be yellow, brown or a mottled combination of the two.
The O’Neills grow more than a half-dozen varieties that begin ripening in early September and continue in succession through November, give or take a couple of weeks depending on the weather. Each has a distinctive flavor that fans describe variously as “honey,” “vanilla,” “floral” and “citrus.” They are so juicy that make a ripe peach seem dry in comparison. The juice literally floods your mouth.
In part because of this year’s bumper crop, Paul has begun turning his surplus into pear wine and is constructing a tasting room for sampling and retail sales. He already has procured a license.
Although some people cook the pears into jams, compotes, cakes and pies, I like raw preparations that showcase their terrific texture.
The pears will keep for weeks in the refrigerator, so I’ll have plenty of time to try the Pear, Fennel and Walnut Salad from Sunset Magazine that follows. I bought more than a case of the pears and will probably go back for another case when the November varieties ripen. A case is weighs about 15 to 20 pounds. The pears are $2 a pound for 10 pounds or more, and $2.50 a pound for lesser amounts.
The O’Neills also grow and sell Fuji apples, winter squash and specialty pumpkins such as my favorite, the French heirloom Musque de Provence. For more information and directions to the farm, check the website, (www.weymouthfarms.com).
ASIAN PEAR, FENNEL AND WALNUT SALAD
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1 large Asian pear
- 2 1/2 tbsp. walnut oil
- 1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup whole or roughly chopped toasted walnut halves
- 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
Trim and any discolored areas from fennel bulb. Cut bulb in half lengthwise, lay a flat side on a work surface, and cut into very thin slices. Repeat with other half and set slices aside.
Cut pear into quarters and scoop out cores. Peel quarters and cut into 1/4-in. slices. Set aside.
Whisk together walnut oil, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl. Taste and add more salt if you like.
Arrange fennel slices and pear slices on 4 salad plates. Drizzle each plate with 1 tbsp. dressing. Arrange walnuts and Parmesan on top. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Cooking for cash:
The finalists have been announced for the Pillsbury Bake Off, and Jodie Grasgreen Delamatre’s brother made the cut. I like to think our votes here in Northeast Ohio helped put him over the top. Ronald Grasgreen of Houston, Texas, will compete in the Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts category next month with his Chocolate Swirl Coffee Cake. Jodie is a Medina County librarian.
A local woman is in the running, too. Janet Gill of Canton will compete in the same category with her Mocha Cappuccino Pull-Apart Coffee Cake.
Good luck to both of them.
In last week’s newsletter, the link to Mario Batali’s Food Network recipe for Sweet and Sour Squash was deleted in the production process. Sorry for the inconvenience. This week I’m not taking any chances. Here’s the entire recipe:
MARIO BATALI’S SWEET AND SOUR SQUASH
- 2 medium butternut squash, cut into 1-inch slices, skin on, seeds discarded
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 medium red onion, sliced paper-thin
- 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 clove garlic, sliced paper-thin
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season the squash with salt and pepper, drizzle half of the olive oil, and place in a single layer on 1 or 2 cookie sheets. Bake at 450 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes, until just tender. Meanwhile, stir together the remaining quarter-cup of oil, vinegar, onion, chili flakes, oregano and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Remove squash from the oven and pour marinade over. Allow to cool 20 minutes in the marinade, sprinkle with mint leaves and serve.
Shirley Barker and others pointed out that a recipe for pumpkin-ginger cookies in last week’s newsletter mentioned ginger in the directions but not in the list of ingredients. One-fourth cup of chopped crystallized ginger should be added with the raisins to the quick bread mix. Sorry I didn’t catch that.
From Jill Nagy, Wadsworth:
I want to know why recipes for apple cakes call for so much oil – 1 1/4 to 2 cups. For 3 apples chopped and 3 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups of sugar and the other stuff, the oil just seems like a lot. But I looked at 16 recipes (on the Internet) and some had even more than 2 cups oil but never less than 1 1/4 cups.
Dear Jill: Good question. I don’t know and don’t even have a guess, but I do have a couple of remedies. Substitute applesauce for some of the oil, or cream cheese as in the following recipe from Cooking Light. One-twelfth of a cake is still 280 calories, with 28 percent of the calories from fat, but that’s better than the gazillion fat calories in most apple cakes.
COOKING LIGHT’S CINNAMON-APPLE CAKE
- 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 3 cups chopped peeled Rome apple (about 2 large)
- Cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat 1 1/2 cups sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; set aside.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and beat at low speed until blended. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Combine 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon mixture and apple in a bowl; stir apple mixture into batter. Pour batter into an 8-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray, and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cake pulls away from the sides of pan. Cool cake completely on a wire rack, and cut using a serrated knife.
Note: You can also make this cake in a 9-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan; just reduce the baking time by 5 minutes.
From Sherri Steiner:
A tip for all those butternut squash you’ll be using. Put the squash in the microwave for a minute, it softens the skin and makes peeling so much easier.
Dear Sherri: That’s a GREAT tip. Thank you for making my life easier.