Fall in the garden

Well, I try not to.  The pears sure are doing so, and sometimes when you step on a rotten pear…..

Speaking of pears, the Comice had the best crop of winter pears ever this year, after the coolest rainiest crummiest spring imaginable.  The good weather window must have been open when this tree blossomed.  Winter pears can be tricky, they need a long chilling period to ripen properly.  The comice pear is in my opinion the best in hand eating pear, so it is worth the effort.  For proper ripening I chill mine by bagging the best, biggest, unblemished pears up in old grocery produce bags or ziplocs, fill the bags with my hot air as best I can and stuff them in the back of the fridge….for at least 30 days.

If you let these pears ripen on the tree they will ripen from the core outward, so when the pear appears to be ripe on the outside it is basically rotten on the inside.  Chilling somehow evens out this ripening process, allowing the fruit to ripen evenly all the way through.  You pick these pears when they still look pretty green, I picked the bulk of mine in late September, this also keeps them from getting too gritty in texture.  You want to bag them in the fridge, otherwise the fridge’s arid environment will dry them out.  When they have been chilled long enough, I take a bag out at a time and let them ripen on the counter.  My favorite way to eat a perfectly ripe comice pear is sliced fresh, and consumed along with a nice stinky blue cheese (Stilton is a classic pairing).  I also make a simple tart of pear baked with honey, a dash of cinnamon, and a few fresh rosemary leaves.  And if you have more pears than you know what to do with?  Slice them up and dry them in the food dryer, and I guarantee they will disappear.  Having a big pear harvest also is a great motivator for me to clean out the fridge, although Huz really gets the credit this round for doing the full edit of old mystery jars and long in the tooth condiments.

Here is the simple pear tart recipe:

crust:

1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons lard

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3-4 tablespoons ice water

filling:

2-3 perfectly ripe pears

honey

cinnamon

fresh rosemary leaves

blend the flour, sugar, salt in a bowl.  Dice up 1/4 stick of butter and using a pastry tool, break up the butter in the flour until the mixture is the texture of course cornmeal.  Add the other 1/4 stick of butter and lard (you can substitute an additional 2 tablespoons of butter if you don’t have lard) and blend until the butter and lard is the size of small peas.  Add a couple of tablespoons of water and toss gently, don’t squeeze or mix too vigorously, this will make your crust tough.  Add more water as needed until the mixture seems appropriately moist and looks a little ‘ropey’.  Place bowl in fridge to chill for about a half hour.

Slice perfectly ripe room temperature pears and toss with a few tablespoons of honey.  Let them sit for a few minutes, so the fruit can macerate slightly.

When fully chilled, make a ball of the crust mixture, and roll out the dough (I usually make 5 or 6 single serving sized crusts)on a well floured board in a circle that is about 2 inches larger in diameter than your finished tart.  Moving around the edge of the circle, fold the crust inward about 1/2 and inch or so to create a shallow cup with a scalloped edge.  Spoon an appropriate amount of pear/honey mixture in the middle of the tart, and add a few crushed leaves of fresh rosemary and a dash of cinnamon.  Brush the edges of the tarts with milk or cream and sprinkle some coarse sugar on them if you like.  Pop in the oven and bake at 400* until the crust edges are toasty brown and the pear filling looks bubbly.  Wonderful for breakfast with good strong coffee.  Also lovely for dessert with aged or stinky cheeses.

I need to stay on top of collecting the down fruit, some of which goes to the hens, but most of which is ground up in the compost grinder for faster decomposition.   This helps reduce  next year’s population of fruit pests, and also limits the likelihood of living up to this blog’s title. The big box of pear seconds has been left in the basement to soften up for a week or two, and I am hoping to press those for cider this week.  Otherwise, pear butter is not a bad secondary option (if I have enough mason jars left….)

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