Pears feel quintessentially of winter but are in season right now in my friend’s south Seattle backyard — no matter that we’re in the thick of nectarines and melons at the farmers markets. Still, you don’t argue with Nature. I came right over when my friend mentioned that the weather had knocked half of them off his tree, and in short order I’d gathered ten pounds of Bartletts and a handful of Asian pears. Some were green and hard as a rock but most of them gold-skinned and ripening quickly.

Ten pounds and you’re talking cooked fruit or preserves. We had dinner guests coming, so the first dozen I slow-poached in a Riesling with lemon, cloves, vanilla bean, and ginger. They were delicious with pistachio ice cream; the leftovers made for a great crepe filling.

Next I tried Nigella Lawson’s pear-ginger muffins, featuring her secret baking weapon, sour cream. Easy and delicious, but they made just a minor dent in the pile of fruit, which was starting to attract dark clouds of fruit flies.

To finish off the supply I attempted a batch of pear-ginger jam, also infused with ginger and lemon, but it didn’t gell, which makes it a compote I suppose. I’ll go back for more pears soon and will hopefully find a more effective recipe next time. Meantime, here’s what I’ve gleaned about cooked pears:

1. Use firm fruit that is just starting to ripen. The firmer pears stand up to long poaching times and don’t completely fall apart during jam making.

2. Pears have low pectin content. Adding processed pectin or extra sugar can thicken jams; or consider adding lemon zest or green apples, which have higher levels of natural pectin.

3. Good partners for pears include ginger, lemon, vanilla, rosemary, basil, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom.

Recipe: Pears Poached in Riesling

6 firm pears, halved and cored / ½ bottle Riesling / 1 tbls ginger, minced / 5 cloves / zest of 1 lemon / ½ vanilla bean / ¼ cup sugar /

Place pear halves, Riesling, ginger, cloves, lemon zest, and vanilla bean in a heavy pot, adding water if needed so pears are just covered. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer for about 40 minutes, until pears are softened. Remove fruit. Scrape seeds of vanilla bean into remaining pear juices and bring back to a boil, adding sugar, and reducing until liquid is thickened and syrupy. Strain if desired. Serve pears chilled and tossed with their syrup alongside vanilla ice cream, or as a filling for sweet crepes. Feeds 6-10.

—> Check out a more recent post for a pear butter recipe.