She was a pear shaped woman which, I suppose, was to her ironic benefit as pears were what she sold. She was dressed in an old sweater with a faded image of a school mascot I could barely make out. Her cheeks were blush and plump which were probably more charming when she wore her hair down. As it was now, her hair was tied up in the back with a rubber band which better showed the fatigue that pear farming had levied over the years.
Still, her pleasant smile and sweet disposition had a warming effect; they illuminated her and shined on those nearby. These and her baskets of colorful fall fruits are what drew such a crowd to her stall.
A basket of Gala apple were front and center. Their pink and yellow streaks were funky and vibrant, reminiscent of a party dress from 1985, yet they made it sleek and fashionable allowing any passerby to understand their socialite nomenclature. Next to it were bulbous Golden Boscs, whose sandpaper skin barely contained their crisp, meaty flesh. Russet hued Seckles sat like petite dolls in a collector's display next to amber glowing Comice who tried not to bruise one another.
I had asked the pear woman which ones would be good for baking. "Bartlett," she had said, and pulled down a bag while inquiring what my pastry plan of attack was.
"A crisp. Or a crumble. It depends. They all start out as crumbles, but if I forget that it's in the oven it's a crisp."
I was amused at my pun. I couldn't tell if she was, wasn't, or just missed it all-together. She just smiled and moved towards the basket of green Bartletts.
She went through the pile of pears reading their topography. Her experiences with pears has immersed herself in their own natural culture and she was now able to communicate on their level, understanding their inflections and sweet humor. She understood the secret language of pears, their pin-prick speckles and heft being their way of conversation. "I'm great for baking!" said one, and she dropped it into the bag. "Too late! I'm way too ripe!" said another once she put the pressure on. She put that ripe one, a perfect pear to eat right there in the market, back in the pile to eagerly wait for the right owner.
I gave her $5 for a bag of Bartletts; more than enough to cook with and plenty to eat. I had her throw in a few Gala apples as well (a fashionable move on my part). "Be sure to add star anise with the pears," she instructed through the still ever-present grin. "It tastes great."
She then moved on to her next customer who was cooing over the Comice. I smiled back to her though I knew she didn't see me. She and her pears were too busy charming the patrons at the stall.
Pear Crisp with Star Anise and Dulce de Leche
Makes one 8x10 inch pan
Baking whole points of star anise gives this dish an amazing flavor. Be sure to let people eating this know not to eat them though. The dulce de leche is optional, but trust me, you want it.
3 medium Bartlett pears, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup of sugar
1 star anise, broken up
heaping 1/2 cup of rolled oats
heaping 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of chilled butter
pinch of cinnamon
Dulce de leche
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly butter a 8x10 baking dish.
2. Place the pears, sugar, and star anise in a bowl and allow to macerate for 15 minutes. While the pears macerate place flour, oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon into a bowl. Cut in the butter using your fingers, two knives, or a pastry cutter until it all comes together is small pea sized bits.
3. Place the pears in the baking dish. Cover with the oat mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Serve with dulce de leche.