We all have milestone moments as we reach adulthood, and one of mine involved pears.
I was working at my first daily newspaper in Florida, renting out an apartment with parquet floors and kitchen counters covered with warped laminate. It was my kingdom, and I loved nothing more than having friends over because company helped drown out the planes touching down on the neighboring county airport.
One of those get-together involved hosting the monthly newsroom book club. As a print journalist, I took words seriously and thus considered the event a literary endeavor worth special attention. Nobody expected a three-course dinner, sure, but the dozen or so people who were part of the group would definitely expect some snacks. Maybe because I didn’t read the book or perhaps I was feeling the effects of my budding inner foodie, either way, I was determined to serve more than chips and salsa.
So I made my own sangria — whose recipe a coworker requested later, so score! — and bought Carr’s water crackers for my jar of my grandmother’s handmade apricot jam. I think olives and guacamole also made the spread, though I now have no idea whether they were meant to go together. What I remember most, however, was quartering fresh pears to serve with a round of brie. They were bartlett and super juicy, and the cheese was something wrapped with a picture of a French flag so I knew it was genuine. I was in my early twenties and I felt like a total sophisticate.
The food was a hit, the book was thoroughly analyzed, and I don’t think anyone noticed the roar of the planes.
Ever since then, pears have claimed a fond spot in my stomach and my heart. Pears don’t need a lot of fuss, which is a very admirable quality. What appeals to me the most about pears is that when you do dress them up a bit, they can still keep their persona. They don’t become something else. They’re still pears — but maybe they’re wearing a sexy pair of heels.
Many years and a few careers later, I still like to serve pears with cheese. When I have the time, I do whip out those proverbial heels, only they often materialize as wine. Apropos, I’d say. My preferred preparation is poaching. I use Port because of its smoky presence, and then I simply add some sugar, flavoring, and water to make up the rest of the poaching liquid. My go-to for this project are Bosc pears, which I peel and seed before simmering until a paring knife can easily pierce the flesh of the fruit — without decimating it. Then I pluck out the fruit and let it cool to just below warm so I can serve it with cheese.
Here, I plated the pears with Humboldt Fog, a California ash-streaked goat cheese that I discovered during my days at a farm-to-table restaurant in New Jersey. Which, you could say, unpacked its own set of milestones.