In pears, a lesson on loving things exactly as they are

The aroma and sweetness of pears shine in this salad of butter lettuce with fruit and cheese with buttermilk dressing.
The heady aroma and delicate sweetness of pears shine in this simple salad of butter lettuce with chunks of fruit and cheese drizzled with a tangy buttermilk dressing.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

A couple weeks ago, I ordered some Pink Pearl apples from a restaurant in my neighborhood. After I brought the brown bag home and opened it, however, I noticed the apples were a different color, bigger in size and ... pear-shaped! Because I had never seen a Pink Pearl apple in real life, I thought maybe I had lost my mind when reading the description, so I cut into the mystery pomme to see if it had the telltale pink blotches of flesh I had read about. Instead, I saw the telltale off-white flesh of a pear. For a couple seconds, my brain tied itself in a knot.

After my brain hit “reset,” I decided to try the pear anyway to see what I was working with. It had an intense pear flavor and almost pornographic juiciness. While I have always found pears mealy and insipid across the board regardless of variety or ripeness — an opinion shared by many people I know — that all changed after eating this mystery pear. The restaurant eventually gave me my apples, but I didn’t desire them any longer — I had found a new love.

The variety of the mystery specimen was a Comice, a variety beloved by the French for its intense aroma. And while I remembered eating Comice pears in years past, I don’t remember them tasting as good as this Pink Pearl changeling. I set about to see if this was a fluke specimen or if I did, indeed, like pears after all.


After a taste test of all the varieties now at my local farmers market and grocery stores, I found that I really just love Comice. Bartletts, Boscs and Anjous all have a stronger mealiness than Comice, which I can’t really root for (although I will acquiesce to liking the pear flavor in all of them). But when the flesh is firm, exceptionally juicy and wallops me with an aroma like the Comice? That I can get behind. Now, what to do with them?

Try as I might, I’m not someone who simply eats raw fruit for a snack — I like them in things. The challenge with cooking pears, however, is to find a way to make them shine on their own and not as a backdrop to stronger ingredients like blue cheese, dark chocolate and caramel, which are all touted as their complement in flavor. I didn’t want to use the pear as a prop for more assertive ingredients. Instead, I wanted to accentuate this heady pear aroma and let other ingredients, for once, take a back seat to it.

With that goal in mind, I decided to do the next best thing to eating raw fruit: mix it into a salad. Inspired by various chopped salads I’ve had over the years that combined large chunks of apple and cheese, I cut the pear into bite-size blocks and toppled them over butter lettuce, along with some mild semi-firm cheese cut the same size as the fruit (Gruyère is the universal choice, but the locally-available Toma from Point Reyes Creamery is even better). A creamy buttermilk-based dressing adds tartness to the salad and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts and sharp radish sprouts add the right amount of delicate bitterness and spice.

Thanks to this salad — and a little fall-fruit confusion — I’ve overcome my nostalgic prejudices and become, well, a pear person. I feel ashamed for having neglected them for so long, but now have resolved to make things right. I plan to eat as many as I can while the in-season specimens are still at the markets, waiting for more people like me to — whether by choice or fate — simply give them a chance.

Chopped Pear Salad With Buttermilk Dressing

Time15 minutes
YieldsServes 2