No one was wearing—or crooning about—pear-bottomed jeans and boots with the fur back in the early 2000s. Or embarking on pear-picking expeditions come fall and making latticed pies with the fruits of his or her labor. And certainly no one is tossing around that old expression: "A pear a day keeps the doctor away."
Shiny, heart-shaped apples usually get the glory as sweater weather and pie season commence, but this year, we're making a case for the crisp-fleshed, mottled green pear (especially in fall's answer to the BLT)—and chefs agree.
"I like pears, because they give a soft sweetness without that unmistakable sweet-and-tart apple taste," Rachel Yang, the chef and owner of Joule in Seattle, says. "Pear is very much prize fruit in Korea. You would always see it on the offering tables during Korean Thanksgiving, Chuseok, and it's common to get a slice of juicy pear instead of any desserts after your meal like little petits fours."
Native to Western Europe, North Africa and across Asia, there are nearly 3,000 varieties of this cold-hardy fruit. Hit up the farmers' market, and you'll find a small cross section of this: fist-size, shatteringly crunchy Asian pears; creamy-fleshed Comice; honeyed Seckel; nearly always-in-season Green Anjou; and stark-red, floral Starkrimson. And whether stiff and not quite ripe or perfectly fleshy, chefs like Jenn Louis of Lincoln in Portland love the fruit's versatility.
"Shave pears with a mandoline when they're underripe for salads or melt them in a grilled cheese with aged cheddar," Louis rattles off. "Dry them, then batter and fry them into fritters or make mostarda with pears to serve with cured meats—their delicate flavor is not too over the top, so they're complementary to stronger flavors."
But the real beauty of pears is how they're a secret weapon in many different cuisines, from a natural meat tenderizer in Korean barbecue marinades (which Yang relies on at her restaurant) to a pickle that can stand up to long fermentation, as newly minted two-Michelin-starred chef Ryan McCaskey at Chicago's Acadia has experimented with.
"I think they're underutilized," McCaskey says. "Every week, I bring in new varieties of pears and see what I like. We had duck on the tasting menu, so we super-fermented pears in a kimchi brine. Pears are cool, because they take on the brine but don't break down."
That was our line of thought as we pondered how to make the humble pear sing. But we also really wanted a sandwich that could stand up to the iconic BLT. That's how we came to our fall-forward variation of the BLT—The BLP (see the recipe). The out-of-season tomatoes we so love are replaced with gochugaru-flecked slivers of pickled pear, and the usual butter lettuce is swapped out for a bitter edge with slightly charred radicchio (we know it's not technically a lettuce, but we're bending the rules for the bitter, leafy chicory). Sandwiched between dark pumpernickel and spackled with lemony aioli, it's the BLT's new fall look, and nothing can compear.