“As American as Mom’s _______ pie.”
Most people would automatically fill that space with the word “apple.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with apple pie (it’s one of our favorites), but the word “pear” would be just as correct.
Domesticated apples may have been cultivated in America first (the first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by a certain Reverend William Blaxton in 1625), but if pears weren’t there at the very start, there is no doubt that they followed soon after.
It may be hard to believe, but America’s oldest known fruit-bearing tree is a pear tree which has been been producing pears for almost 400 years. A pear sapling, carefully transported from England, was planted around 1630 by an early English settler, John Endicott. The “Endicott Pear,” as it has become known, has weathered decay, storms and hurricanes – even vandal attacks – and is still alive, faithfully bringing forth edible fruit, year after year, centuries after it was planted.
So, while exact dates may not be known with any certainty, it’s clear that pears have been a part of the American landscape for a long, long time.
A Little Pear History
Pears are one of the oldest known fruits in the world. Members of the rose family, pears are thought to have originated in the foothills of the Tian Shan mountain range of Central Asia, eventually spreading across Europe and Asia, as they evolved into a diverse group of over 20 species and upwards of 3,000 varieties.
It’s clear that our Stone Age ancestors knew and enjoyed them, as did the (relatively) more recent ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans. The cultivation of pears is mentioned in Chinese records dating back 5,000 years. In the Odyssey, the Greek poet Homer praises pears as a “gift of the gods.”
The pear was cultivated by the Romans, who, like us, ate the fruits both raw and cooked. The use of pears is well-documented in Roman literature. Pliny’s Natural History recommended simmering them with honey and noted three dozen varieties. The famous Roman cookbook, De re coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”), offers a recipe for a sort of spiced pear soufflé.
Ever growing in importance as a food source, modern pear varieties were under cultivation across Europe by the 17th century. Pears were firmly a part of popular culture as well. Remember a certain Christmas carol about a pear tree and a partridge?
Pears & Pies
Pears are less acidic, milder in flavor and more tender in texture than apples. But that gently sweet flavor has earned the pear its place in the pie pantheon. The pear is a companionable fruit, getting along well with other assertive flavors such as pepper, ginger, lemon and – wait for it – maple syrup. When choosing a pear for baking, select a pear variety that is sweet, firm and crisp and non-gritty in texture, like Bosc, Forelle, Seckel or Comice.
Luscious Pear-Maple Syrup Pie
- 9 small pears (Forelle or Seckel), or 6 medium pears (Bosc, Anjou, Comice), peeled, halved, and cored
- Pastry crust for a 2-crust pie, recipe follows
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (we used Meyer lemon juice)
- 1/3 cup Michigan maple syrup
- 1 large egg mixed with 2 tsp water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the pears crosswise into good-sized slices. Not too small – about 1/4 – 1/2 inch-thick will do nicely.
Roll out half of the pastry large enough to fit a 9 to 10-inch pie plate with an inch or so of pastry hanging over the edge. Carefully line the pie plate with the rolled out pastry.
Pile about one third of the pear slices into the pastry-lined pie plate (no special arrangement required!), and sprinkle with one third of the flour. Repeat twice more with the remaining pears and flour. Stir the lemon juice and maple syrup together in a small bowl, then pour the mixture over the pears.
Note: We used a premium barrel-aged Michigan maple syrup in this recipe and, yes, you CAN taste the difference. First, it’s made with real Michigan maple syrup, some of the finest in the world. Second, it’s aged in bourbon barrels where it picks up subtle notes of vanilla, oak and, of course, bourbon. We probably wouldn’t use this top-notch maple syrup in an apple pie, where its complexity might be overpowered, but when paired with the milder flavor of pears (pun intended), every nuance of flavor shines through. It’s not essential that you use a specific brand of barrel-aged maple syrup, but it’s worth trying if you can get your hands on a bottle. Whatever you do use, make sure it’s a good quality, genuine maple syrup – none of that artificially flavored stuff!
Roll out the other half of the pastry for the top crust. Brush the edges of the bottom pastry with some of the beaten egg mixture. Lay the top crust over the heaped pears, pressing it onto the egg-washed edges. Fold the edges of the bottom crust up and over the top edge, and crimp closed using your fingers or the tines of a fork. Brush the top crust all over with egg mixture. Cut or prick eight or more vent holes through the top crust with the point of a sharp knife.
Place the pie on a baking sheet and slide it onto a rack in the bottom third of the pre-heated oven. Bake until the crust is golden and lightly browned, about 55 minutes. If the crust begins to browns too quickly, lay a piece of aluminum foil loosely over it.
Remove pie from oven, take off the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack. Allow the pie to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.
Pastry for a 9″ – 10″ 2-crust pie:
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup ice water
Place flour and salt in a food processor, and process briefly just to mix them together.
Add the butter and using short pulses, process until mixture ranges in size from peas to coarse oatmeal.
Slowly pour in the water, using short pulses to incorporate it into the flour. The mixture should be moist enough to hold together, but don’t process it to the point of forming a ball. The dough should still look crumbly, but it should adhere when you press it between your fingers.
Transfer the pastry to a large piece of waxed paper. Divide it in half and press each half out to form a flat round about 5 inches across. Wrap each tightly in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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