Among the most elegantly shaped edibles, pears have long been classic subjects for still-life artists. But the elegance of these botanical siblings of the apple and rose does not end with their looks. Their texture is unique—grainy but buttery and crisp. They have a special affinity with foods as diverse as cheese and chocolate, raspberries and bitter greens. Pears take to preparation in myriad ways. Poached, baked, sautéed, steamed and puréed, or stewed, pears may be at their peak when fully ripe (pears ripen best off the tree, at room temperature) and raw.
Nutritionally, pears supply fiber and vitamin C. Functionally, pears contain antioxidants not only as vitamin C but from the flavonoid quercetin, which diminishes the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing atherosclerotic plaques. It is also anti-inflammatory and lowers blood pressure. By all such mechanisms, it protects the heart and blood vessels, making it a boon to blood flow in the brain.
Now, Dutch researchers report, pears, along with apples, may specifically benefit the brain by protecting against stroke. A large, 10-year study found that persons consuming the most white-flesh fruits and veggies—mainly pears and apples—had a risk of stroke that was 52 percent lower than did those who consumed few white-flesh foods.
There are over 3,000 varieties of pear. Not all are in wide cultivation. But those that are make pears available year-round. Protecting the brain is always in season.
Pears With a Kick
■ SERVINGS: Four
■ TOTAL TIME: 1 hour
6 cups cold water
4 cups cane sugar
4 Bosc pears, peeled, stem intact
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla
2 1-inch pieces of fresh ginger, peeled
and finely julienned
6 whole cloves
Place water and sugar in heavy pot and stir well to dissolve sugar.
Heat and stir until mixture forms a light syrup, about 5 minutes.
Add vanilla, cloves, and ginger to syrup and stir.
Carefully place pears upright in pot and cover pot loosely. (Pear parings may be added to intensify flavor.)
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook pears for 30-40 minutes, until just tender.
Remove pears gently from pot to a soufflé dish or other high-sided dish.
While pears cool, bring syrup to a boil and cook at moderate heat until syrup reduces, about 15 minutes.
Remove pear parings and cloves with a slotted spoon and discard.
Remove ginger with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Ladle 4 tablespoons of syrup over each pear.
Strew ginger strips on the pears.
Coat pears with more syrup.
Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (up to two days).
Note: Remaining syrup makes a flavorful base for hot or cold drinks, mixed with boiling water, seltzer, or other fizzy water. Store in a jar.