There is no doubt that autumn is a great time for British produce, and New Covent Garden Market is currently awash with produce of different shapes and sizes.
British pears have now come into their own, and the variety of flavours, colours and shapes make them an incredibly versatile ingredient. Take advantage of this year's bumper crop and subsequent good prices by including them on seasonal menus.
Pastry chefs Oscar Gillian of Haymarket Hotel and Kamel Simohmed from the Charlotte Street Hotel recently took part in a tutored tasting hosted by New Covent Garden Market wholesaler Classic Fresh Foods and compared notes. Claudia Frewin, sales director at Classic Fresh, takes us through some of the varieties used in many desserts, sorbets and salads during the season.
Properties An early mid-season pear, known for its good eating quality with fine, tender, juicy white flesh. The fruit is a slightly squat, pointed shape and the skin is a fine, pale, clear green, which turns golden as it ripens.
Usage Great for baking or poaching. Add raw to salads or serve with cured meats such as prosciutto.
Notes Williams and Bartlett are the same variety, known by two different names. They are not ideal for long storage as they ripen quickly. Look for fragrant pears without any soft spots.
Properties The best known of all pears, the Conference is long and bell-shaped with firm flesh, a grainy texture and a robust skin which doesn't bruise easily.
Usage Can be eaten hard or fully ripe with a smooth, juicy flavour. Ideal in salads paired with blue cheese or poached in red wine and served with mascarpone.
Notes The season runs from October to November, but Conference will easily store until January, giving it longevity on menus.
Properties Rounder than other pears. Sweet, juicy, smooth and soft, but bruise easily.
Usage A favourite for poaching and desserts as it retains its structure and a strong pear flavour when cooked.
Notes Look for Comice pears that feel heavy for their size. Test the fruit around the stem: it should be quite tender and smell ripe. Available September to February.
Usage Best eaten raw, sliced or diced into salads, both fruit and savoury.
Notes Choose Asian pears for their size and weight with no give when you squeeze them.
Properties Firm flesh, juicy and sweet.
Usage Great for poaching and good with cheese.
Notes Not commercially popular, as they have a short three-month season and are imported from Portugal.
WHAT THE CHEFS SAID
Oscar Gillian, pastry chef, Haymarket hotel
We have a frangipan and Comice pear tart on the menu at the moment. First, we poach the pear whole in a sugar syrup with vanilla and cinnamon for about 20 minutes, and then let it cool down in the pan. We make a sweet pastry and fill the base with frangipan before arranging the slices of poached pear on top and baking. To serve, we simply glaze and place an apricot on top for a final touch.
The Comice pear is great for poaching as it keeps its structure and retains its fresh pear flavour. The poached pear can be served warm with hot chocolate sauce and ice-cream.
Asian pears are very hard with a lack of flavour and sweetness. They have a crunchy, fresh texture, so although they are perhaps not best for desserts, they could be used in Asian coleslaw or in a savoury dish.
Kamel Simohmed, pastry chef, Charlotte Street hotel
I would peel and poach the Comice whole with a little red wine and some spices such as cinnamon and cloves.
The Red William has the same characteristics as the green variety, but the red colour makes it the better-looking pear.
It would be good in a tart, but could also be used in a compote. It is also very fragrant - almost perfumed - and the sweet-sharp flavour would lend itself to a chutney or as a relish for cheese and meats.
Green Williams are the Rolls-Royce of pears! They need to be picked quickly, as if they are left too long on the tree they go floury in texture. Putting the green and red together can look great in a display or on the plate.
For supplier information, contact Classic Fresh Foods at New Covent Garden Market on 020 7627 5701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on New Covent Garden Market or to request a guided tour, please call 020 7622 6746 or visit www.newcoventgardenmarket.com.