The Forgotten Fruit

Make a fresh pear puree cocktail for your next autumn party.
First, let’s shine some light on a worthy seasonal contender amid the current Great Pumpkin and Apple Rush. Then, let's drink it.

Fall’s arrival signals the shift from the sweet fruits of summer to the bounty of autumn’s harvests. Lost within the boundless sea of orange, gold, and red stands the humble yellow-green pear. All sorts of pears are available (and delicious) year round, but truly in-season, locally grown pears make their first appearance at Northeastern markets in early September.

The earliest pears to arrive are the impossibly juicy, soft, and sweet bell-shaped Bartletts and the lush flavor and silky texture only gets better as the season marches along. Next comes October’s long-necked Bosc: tan, crisp, dry, and sweet, followed immediately by the roly-poly Comice, with its high sugar content and flesh so soft that it can be eaten with a spoon. Versatile, short-necked Anjous (both red and yellow) makes their debut just as we settle in for December’s long winter nap. Appropriately called the “winter pear” in times past, the Anjou pears buttery white flesh, firm texture, and high juice content offers an echo of summer days during the chilliest months.

Because ripe pears bruise easily, the fruit is always picked when fully mature in size, still hard and not yet ripe. To ripen, simply leave the pears on the counter and time will do the rest. Pears ripen from the inside out (Bartlett pears are the only pear variety to change color as it ripens), so to determine ripeness, give your pear a gentle squeeze: a ripe one will yield slightly to the touch.

Bartlet pears, in varying stages of ripeness.
Lovely Bartlett pears, ripening from top left to bottom right.
To bite into a perfectly ripe pear (skin and all) is to experience a heady combination of juicy sweetness with a hint of citrus, a slightly bitter aftertaste, and a soft, buttery mouthfeel. To capture this essence in a coupe, a solid base of uncooked pear puree is the only way to go.

Ripe pears are sinfully easy to puree: simply peel, core, dice, and blend with a bit of liquid until smooth. Cold processing the puree keeps the flavors bright and crisp (cooking causes the more delicate flavors to dissipate and sugars to caramelize). Since most of the ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is in the peel, fresh pear puree lacks the subtle tang experienced in that first juicy bite. Fresh lemon juice added to the puree is the fix.

For spirits, we began with a split base of vodka and pear brandy. We then added our puree and shook with ice. The fresh pear taste was very pronounced, but the texture was decidedly thin and watery. Riffing off the pear’s 17th century nickname “butter fruit”, we added some melted butter to our next round, double-straining to catch any butter solids. The texture was better, but the overall drink was way too oily. Our solution? Whip up a butter-washed spirit.

The way some folks describe it, fat-washing is a clever high-tech process best left to the molecular experts. In reality, it's a simple way to make an emulsion of fat and alcohol. To make our butter-washed spirit, we mixed room temperature vodka and melted, cooled butter together and let the mix rest undisturbed for several hours (this allows the alcohol molecules and the butter’s flavoring compounds to form bonds). We then placed the rested mixture in the freezer for a couple of hours to separate the solids from the liquid. The next day, we popped off the solid mass, and strained the clear, butter-flavored vodka to catch any remaining bits.

At this point the cocktail was near perfection. Thinking again of that first bite of pear, we realized that we were missing the pear skin's vegetal scent. A few dashes of celery bitters and, at last! the perfect autumn cocktail with nary an apple, squash, caramel, or spice in sight.

The Fresh Pear Cocktail

Serves 1

Fresh pears make the perfect autumn cocktail. No apple, pumpkin, caramel, or spice needed.
Here’s a fabulous fall cocktail for anyone tired of caramel apple and pumpkin spice. Butter-washed vodka, pear brandy, and fresh pear puree conjures up the spirited essence of a ripe pear. No need to add simple syrup to this one: pear puree is plenty sweet!
  • 2 ripe pears, washed, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks (about 1 cup)
  • 1 ounce water
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 ounce butter-washed vodka (recipe follows)
  • 1 ounce pear brandy
  • 2 dashes celery bitters
In a blender, combine pears, water, and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. (This makes enough for at least 2 cocktails, and is also delicious stirred into your morning oatmeal.)

Measure out 1 1/2 ounces fresh pear puree into a cocktail shaker; add the rest of the ingredients. Shake with ice; double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe.

Butter-washed Vodka

Makes 6 ounces
  • 6 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce European (high fat) butter, melted, cooled
Shake vodka and melted butter in a jar with lid (a mason jar with screw-top is perfect). Let rest at room temperature for 4-6 hours, then transfer to freezer and freeze overnight.

To use, remove solids from top, then strain the vodka into a clean 8-ounce bottle. Store in refrigerator or freezer.
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