What to Do With All Those Pears!

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Tis the season to celebrate the bounty of pears bestowed upon us here in the Sandhills! The pear trees are full and been a great source of nourishment for both humans and wildlife. Now that you’ve eaten pears fresh from the tree and shared them with neighbors far and near, you’re probably wondering what other ways this fruit can be enjoyed. Because pears are so good for our health, the fruit is worthy of more exploration into its culinary uses.

Many people don’t realize it but pears contain a great amount of vitamins C and K. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid is important for our absorption of iron, immune system, maintaining cartilage, bones, and teeth. Vitamin K plays a role in our blood clotting and the prevention of excessive bleeding. As a bonus, evidence shows that eating pears can aid in preventing cholesterol and heart disease due to the fruit’s supply of fiber and antioxidants.

If you have diabetes, it is important to monitor your carbohydrates. Small pears contain about 22 grams of carbohydrates, this is equal to about 1.5 servings. This should be taken into consideration when adding pears into your diet. The glycemic index(GI) rates foods from 1-100 in terms of how fast the food will make your blood sugar rise. Because pears have fiber, they fall between 20 to 49 on the glycemic index, which is low on the GI scale, making pears a healthy choice.

Now let’s talk about the many ways to enjoy your juicy pears. There are many varieties of pears, some have firm crisp flesh and others may have softer flesh. This will also depend on the ripeness of the fruit. Regardless of the texture or variety, washing and eating the pear with its peel on is the best way to obtain nutrients which are mainly contained within the skin. Many old homesteads have ancient-seeming pear trees in their yards. These are likely Pyrus pyrifolia – also called Sand pears, due to their gritty texture. This is an Oriental variety introduced over 100 years ago, and many trees are likely close to that in age. They are hardy, disease resistant trees, unlike many of the more modern varieties. The skin – which can be rather tough – should be peeled before eating. Harvest before ripe, and keep in a cool, dark place where they will soften and become juicy. They are great for canning even if hard, as the flesh is firm and doesn’t become mushy. Those with old sand pear trees in their yards are very fortunate!

Pears can be dried for consumption. Drying allows pears to maintain their fiber and nutrients. They also maintain a lot of their sweetness from sugar, for this reason, diabetics must watch their intake of dried pears.

Stewed pears are a delicious compliment to meats and vegetables at mealtime. Just make the syrup using ¾ cup of water, 3 tablespoons of sweetener or to taste, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 star anise, and 1 cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. In the meantime wash and cut the pears into large chunks (peel if desired). Add pears to the syrup, cover and simmer for 7 minutes. Remove the lid and continue simmering for 5-8 minutes. Pears should be soft but not mushy.

As with zucchini and bananas, you can also make a delicious pear quick bread. Here is an easy recipe from Taste of Home. Here are the ingredients- 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1-1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1/2 cup butter(melted), 4 eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 2 cups diced peeled pears. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, baking soda and nutmeg; set aside. In another bowl, whisk the sugar, oil and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened (batter will be stiff). Stir in pears. Pour into two greased 8×4-in. loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

For those that enjoy food preservation, pears can be either hot packed or raw packed and processed in a hot water bath. Firm, crisp pears are also delicious preserved in the freezer covered in 40 percent syrup. As mentioned earlier, drying pears is also a great option. Dried pears should be stored in a tightly sealed glass jar. Using tested recipes, preserved pears will last several months.

To find out more about the nutritional benefits of pears, preserving pears, and more great pear recipes, contact Cheri Bennett at 910-997-8255 or email at cheri_bennett@ncsu.edu .