Pears are one of the signature fruits of autumn, and a nice change of pace from summer's delicate fruits and berries.
Though there are thousands of varieties, Bartletts are the best known. They're recognized by their shapely bottoms and long necks. They arrive rock-hard at the grocery store. Most pears ripen off the tree, and Bartletts are no exception. They're picked in August and September when mature but still firm and available through December-January, according to the USA Pears website, usapears.com
Given time, Bartletts turn from green to yellow and their flesh from crunchy and tart to creamy and supersweet and juicy - perfect for eating out of hand. If the neck near the stem yields when pressed, it means the pear is on its way to ripening.
Firm, ripe pears are what's needed for these recipes. Softer pears will turn mealy as they cook. Pears can be used in place of apples in any recipe. The advantage of using pears is that they let other flavors shine. That means you can really taste the touch of cardamom and apricot jam in the pie. Pears also have more fiber than apples: 5 grams to an apple's 3 grams. A medium-size pear, though, has more calories: 98 calories versus an apple's 81.
Makes: 1 pie
• 4 tablespoons apricot preserves
• 5 cups firm ripe Bartlett pears (about 6 or 7)
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and cardamom
• 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
• 3 tablespoons butter
• Unbaked pastry for 2-crust pie
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line pie plate with half the pastry. Mix pie ingredients, dot filling with butter and top with remaining crust. Vent the top of the pie. Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Check for doneness by sticking a fork into the fruit and checking for tenderness.
Pears will soften but remain firm when baked into a pie. The juices in this pie will not bubble up as in a peach or cherry pie, so less tapioca will result in a juicer filling.
Makes: 20 to 30 pear chips
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 1 cup water
• 2 underripe pears
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
In a medium-size saucepan, combine the sugar, 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and continue to simmer while slicing the pears.
Slice the pears 1/16-inch thick using a mandoline. Immediately immerse the pear slices in the boiling sugar. When the syrup has resumed a rapid boil, remove the slices with a slotted spoon to a plate. When cool enough to handle, place slices on a pan lined with parchment paper. Make sure slices don't touch or overlap. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Once chips take on a dry appearance, remove one from the oven and allow it to cool on the counter. If it's crispy once it's cooled, it's ready.
The chips will keep for two weeks, or longer if refrigerated.
"The Sweet Life: Desserts From Chantrelle" by Kate Zuckerman (Bullfinch Press, $35).