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Put pears in apples’ place

Marlene Parrish
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

Who ever says, a pear a day keeps the doctor away? Pear cider? As American as pear pie? It never happens. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, that’s pears.

I like to use under-appreciated pears as often as I can as a switch from apples, and a fall favorite of mine is streusel-topped Pear Crunch Pie.

When I don’t have time to make crust, I will spoon the filling into ramekins, or small baking dishes and bake until everything is bubbly and brown.

When I want to change up the crust, I make a whole-wheat crust: follow your basic pastry recipe, substituting 1 cup whole-wheat flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour for a double crust and 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour for a single crust. The baked crust will be toasty brown and cookie-crumbly.

And when I want a lily-gilded, over-the-top presentation, I serve warm pie with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of homemade butterscotch sauce. Even for breakfast.

Pear Crunch Pie

This is a delicious pie, full of juicy chunks of ripe pear and topped with streusel, made crunchy with buttery oatmeal crumbs and almonds.

Make it now when pears are at their peak of flavor. To check for ripeness, gently push the flesh at the stem end; if it gives a bit, the pear is just right for eating or baking.

5 cups cored, peeled, and sliced Bartlett pears (about 5 to 7, depending on size, and very ripe)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2/3 cup sugar (or half white and half brown sugar)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Good pinch nutmeg

Good pinch salt

1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked

1 tablespoon butter

Streusel topping

1/2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup butter, melted

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 cup chopped almonds or walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine pears, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside to let juices form. Prepare pastry for a 9-inch pie shell.

Dump filling into prepared pie shell and dot with butter. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare topping. With a fork, mix oats, flour, melted butter, sugar and almonds, until well combined and crumbly.

Remove pie from oven, sprinkle topping evenly over pear filling, then return the pie to the oven and continue baking for 50 to 60 minutes.

Remove to a rack to cool. Serve warm with butterscotch sauce or ice cream.

— Marlene Parrish

Butterscotch Sauce

This is a classic. Drizzle, or pour if that’s more your style, over any apple or pear dessert.

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup light or dark corn syrup

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup heavy cream

In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Then increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat. Carefully stir in cream, standing back as the mixture can sputter; stir until the mixture is smooth. Pour into a jar. The sauce will separate upon standing; just give it a stir before using. The sauce can keep in the fridge for up to one week.

Makes about 21/2 cups.

— Marlene Parrish

Pairing pears

Pears are good in salads, where they partner well with greens, especially the bitter ones, and be sure toss in a few nuts and goat cheese for creaminess. Try slices of pear with leaves of prosciutto for an appetizer, and pair them with blue-vein cheeses and nuts on a cheese platter. Surprise guests with sauteed pears as a garnish for grilled or fatty meats such as pork and duck.

Seasonal dessert menus welcome pears, too. Poach them in red wine, then serve with their reduced ruby syrup and top with soft drifts of whipped cream. Poach pears in white wine, and serve with a rich chocolate sauce whose fancy name is pears Belle Helene. Serve white-wine poached pears with a pureed raspberry sauce for Pears Melba.

Let pears star in tarts, crisps, slumps and upside-down cakes. Remember, you can use a pear anywhere you can use an apple.