A bounty of buttery-sweet pears is one of the true delights of the fall and winter months.  Although our own pear trees are still too young to be bearing fruit, our local area farmer’s markets are brimming with the first ripe heirloom pears of the season.

Heirloom Pear

Occasionally we find something truly special and unique at the farmer’s markets. This weekend we were shopping at the farm stand of a farm that’s just up the road from us, when we spied some of the most phenomenal fresh pears we’ve ever seen!

These behemoths weighed in at almost 2 lbs.  EACH!

These mystery heirloom pears almost filled a dinner plate, and weighed close to 2 lbs each!

The trees that produced these remarkable fruits are very old, and were on the land when the present owners purchased the property.  Unfortunately, the name of this cultivar has since been lost to time. The trees are apparently quite aged, and past their prime in regards to production, but are still producing a few of these uniquely sized, perfectly pyriform fruits.

Needless to say, we couldn’t resist bringing a few of these pears home.

Based on their immense size, vintage of the trees, texture, and flavor, this pear variety sounds very similar to the heirloom ‘Uvedale’s St. Germaine’, also known as ‘Pound Pear’, although we’ll never truly know its identity.

The flesh was very gritty and fibrous, and more astringent than sweet

I sampled a piece raw, to decide how best to prepare them, and this published description fit them perfectly:

“Uvedale’s St. Germain: Flesh white, hard, and a little gritty next the core, with an austere astringent juice, which renders it unfit for eating raw”.

Astringent and gritty was very much an understatement!  It was honestly the worst pear I’ve ever had the displeasure of sampling.  Disappointed, both with the flavor and texture, I questioned whether it was even fit for cooking.  However, the quote goes on to say…

“but it is excellent for baking and stewing.”

Having grown up baking with sour and astringent cooking apples, including Bramley’s Seedling, I knew the texture, and flavor of pomme fruits often improves with cooking.  Giving these pears the benefit of the doubt, I suspected I might have just the perfect recipe lurking in our archives.

A sweet Italian friend, many years ago, kindly parted with a copy of his favorite recipe for a simple, rustic, Italian ‘Torta di Pere’.  I’ve now been making variations of this seasonal dessert for almost 20 years.  Not quite a pie, or a tart, this recipe is similar in construction to a clafoutis, and almost as unique as the pears we found at the market, but any firm pear, such as a Bosc or Anjou, will work equally well.  Many recipes have come and gone in our kitchen over the years, but this one remains one of our fall favorites.

Yield: 8 Servings


2 lbs Fresh Firm Pears
2 Large Eggs
1/4 Cup of Whole Milk
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp Fresh Grated Nutmeg
1 Tsp Lemon Zest
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup Amaretti (or Ginger Snap) Cookie Crumbs, preferably homemade


Powdered Confectioner’s Sugar, for dusting


A 9-inch layer-cake pan


Preheat the oven to 350 F

Zest the lemon, and set the zest aside.  Juice the lemon, and add the juice to a large bowl of cold water.

Quarter the pears, or if especially large cut into eighths, before slicing

Peel and core the pears.  Cut the pears into quarters, and slice each quarter crosswise into 1/4″ thick slices.  Immediately immerse the slices in the lemon water prepared above to prevent the pears from browning.

Immersing in lemon water prevents the pears from browning

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until pale yellow, 1-2 minutes.  Whisk in the milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt, and continue beating.  Mix the nutmeg, and a teaspoon of lemon zest into the flour, and add the flour mixture to the egg.  Stir the batter until the flour is thoroughly incorporated.

The batter will resemble a pancake batter

Drain the sliced pears, and mix into the batter, coating the pears as evenly as possible.

Mix the pears into the batter, and stir until coated

Generously coat the bottom and sides of a straight-sided 9 inch layer cake pan (a non-stick pan is not necessary) with 1 Tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle the cookie crumbs over the pan. Turn to coat thoroughly, and evenly.

Coat the pan with butter and cookie crumbs

Once coated, turn the pan upside down, and tap it or shake it lightly to get rid of the excess crumbs.

Pour the batter with pears into the pan, leveling it off with the back of a spoon or a spatula.

Pour, or scoop the coated pears carefully into the pan

Evenly dot the surface with the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Bake in the upper third of the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the batter is set, and lightly golden.

The surface will not brown much as it bakes

Invert the cake to remove it from the pan once cooled.  Serve at room temperature, lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar, or with a simple sweetened cream.

This rustic dessert is excellent served alone

Note that the texture of this cake is unique, and is not your typical sponge-textured cake.  It won’t rise in the oven, or change color significantly while baking.

It's probably not possible to pack more pears into one dessert

The overall texture is difficult to describe, but falls somewhere between a very dense cheesecake, and a fresh fruit tart.  It’s not an overly sweet dessert, but is packed with layers of beautiful fresh pears.

This torta was made with a ginger cookie crust, that paired beautifully with the lemon

I’m delighted to say that despite being unpalatable raw, the heirloom pears baked beautifully, and it only took ONE pear to make this dessert, due to their enormous size.

The citrus brightened the pear flavor, and baking improved the texture tremendously.

Dessert anyone?

Next time we visit the farmer’s market we may see if we can obtain some scion wood this winter from these old heirloom trees to graft next spring.  The pears may not be good for eating out of hand, but they were very good baked, and clearly very well adapted to growing here along the Central Coast.