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Pears are a member of the rose family, mainly grown in the Pacific Northwest, and peak in season during the fall and winter months. They're a delicious fruit to keep on hand, both for snacking and cooking. Complimentary flavors include spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and ginger, cheeses, such as goat cheese, blue cheese or mascarpone, and nuts, such as pecans and almonds. Try pears on top of salad greens, pureed into soups or sauces, or poached to add a fresh taste to most any dessert.

To poach pears, mix 2 parts liquid (water, wine or fruit juice) with 1 part sweetener (sugar, honey or agave nectar) in a saucepan, add peeled pears, and allow to simmer 20 to 30 minutes, or until pears are cooked through. Additions may include cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, whole cloves, etc. Serve warm with some of the poaching liquid alongside ice cream, yogurt, or a rich chocolate dessert.

Well-known pears include Bartletts, which turn bright green to yellow as they ripen. They're a great all-purpose pear that can be eaten raw, made into jams or used in cooking/baking. Anjous can be green or red, both of which are sweet, but green Anjous have a slightly citrusy flavor. Bosc pears have more of a long tapered neck and firm texture, making them the best pear for poaching or baking.

Pears are picked when mature but not ripe, so allow pears to sit at room temperature to ripen. However, store them away from apples, onions, potatoes or other ethylene-producing produce to prevent spoilage.

Pear and Butternut Squash Soup Printable PDF

2 Tablespoons trans-fat free margarine

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1" pieces

3 medium pears, peeled, chopped into 1"pieces

1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

2 rosemary sprigs

½ cup evaporated skim milk

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

In a large pot, heat margarine over medium heat until melted. Add onions and cook until softened. Add squash and pears and cook 5 minutes. Pour in stock. Add rosemary sprigs, salt, pepper and sugar, and bring to a simmer. Cook until squash and pears are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove sprigs and add evaporated milk, stirring quickly so it doesn't curdle. Pour in a blender or use an immersion blender and puree until smooth.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Nutritional analysis per serving: 110 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 240 milligrams sodium, 21 grams total carbohydrate, 4 grams dietary fiber, 4 grams protein