Tantalizing Last-of-Season Produce

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I am a real sucker for ‘last of the season” produce. It gets me every time – I’ll discover a gorgeous heap of Indian peaches, Brown Turkey figs or perfectly yellow, lumpy quinces, and all the farmer has to say is, “Well, that’s the last of ‘em. I won’t have these peaches again until next year,” and I succumb, body and soul.  I usually end up buying the entire display, and as I lurch through the door, grasping a 30-pound box of fruit, my husband rolls his eyes. “That’s why I love you,” he says kindly, “No one else I know would buy 75 peaches in a single morning.”

Such was the case recently when I spied a heap of the most luminous, perfectly ripe Bartlett pears – I felt as if they had voluptuously ripened mere moments before, just for me. Each pear was like a lovely mini-sculpture, with sensuous curves, golden yellow and pinkish-greenish hues, and they emitted an irresistible, knee-weakening perfume. I couldn’t imagine living without them (“Won’t be anymore this year,” murmured the retailer), so I bought them. All of them.

Now, I have a small family of four, so I did the only practical thing I could think of – I poached the fruit. Half the pears were poached in Gewürztraminer wine, the other half in a late harvest Syrah wine. The great thing about poaching fruit is that you significantly extend its shelf life – it can sit for two weeks in its luscious poaching liquid while you figure out various ways to enjoy it.

And, yes indeedy, have we enjoyed those pears – they’ve been eaten as-is, in front of the television; piled on pound cake with freshly whipped cream; nibbled with cheese and crackers; added to a savory salsa for roast pork; and – this past weekend – incorporated into several rustic galettes, piled atop a layer of toasted walnut frangipane (the perfect dessert for a cold, blustery Saturday evening). The remaining pears will be pureed and added to my favorite applesauce-dark chocolate coffee cake (I often substitute pureed quinces and pears for the apples), and, after devouring the cake, this family of four (plus a few happy friends) will have relished every last bite of that 24 pounds of exquisitely ripe, bursting-out-of-their-skins-with-goodness, last of season Bartlett pears.