Pears, Pears, and More Pears

While I'm not sure if any food makes me as happy as a warm strawberry plucked right off the plant I must admit that this pear comes deliriously close. It isn't quite right off the tree, but you don't want that anyway. Rather, a pear does better with a few days on the kitchen counter to mellow into its juicy, sexy sweetness. In the case of this pear it excelled with a couple of days in the Mission Hill Family Estate kitchen, a 7 hour drive in the backseat, and a few more sultry days on our kitchen counter.  Then it turned into a TV star.

Before we ventured to the Okanagan last week I booked my first TV appearance on Breakfast Television. The timing was perfect and I spent some of our time at the Penticton Farmers' Market searching for the perfect pears to bring home. The pears at the market were perfect, if I wanted to eat them that day.  Our guide, Matt Batey, heard my lament and offered up some Mission Hill pears.  They'd been picked the day before and would I like to stop by the Estate and pick them up when we were on our way home?

What a no brainer.  Of course, it meant that we didn't get home in time for the girls' bedtime. Ah, they'd hardly noticed we were gone anyway.

After days of touring around the Naramata Bench and visiting people in their homes, garages, and vineyards it was quite a shock to our senses to arrive at the Mission Hill Family Estates sprawling grounds.  From the second you pass through the gates at the end of a residential drive the entire experience is choreographed. You pass through the keystone (above) and enter the grounds.  Your view is filled with the sky, lake, and mountains behind, all framed by the Terrace restaurant, Bell Tower, Visitor Center, and the overwhelming feeling of luxury.

Then Matt greeted us in his chef whites and brought us back to reality with a tour of the gardens, kitchen, and food experience of Mission Hill.  The place may be all about the wine, with gardens and menus built to frame that wine, but the passion in the food and in Matt was evident.  I am dying to go back and try a winemaker dinner or culinary workshop. Another trip...

Here is Matt in the garden.  One of the fascinating things about the gardens here was that they are planted by grape varietal. It was like food and wine pairing for idiot cooks.  Well, probably a bit fancier than that. But in case you didn't know, Chardonnay works with cilantro, lily, corn, beans, squash, mint, and yes, pears.

Then there were the pears.  After pulling out a few crates Matt and I packed out one full crate of Bartletts, Bosc, and Asian pears to take home. Thank-you Matt, you're just lucky that they survived the drive home. He and Hubby seem to share a certain propensity for big, bad cars and heavy feet.

Yes, that is the seatbelt getting good use on the Old Okanagan Highway. No carseats on this trip, but safety always comes first!

So my precious beauties arrived home safely.  They were the perfect inspiration for the some lovely dishes. Hubby watched the girls last night and I baked, kneaded, and chopped to prep for this morning's BT appearance. I made Pear, Gorgonzola, and Carmelized Onion Pizza, Asian Pear Slaw, Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake, and Cardamon Hand Pies. The Monster helped me with the ultimate recipe, the Honey Pear Cheesecake.  It was a good thing she helped me last night because apparently she had a fit this morning watching me on TV.  "I want to bake a cake with Mama on TV!"  Maybe next time, Sweetie.

Honey Pear Vanilla Cheesecake
(Serves 10-12)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (or crushed Nilla wafers, gingersnaps, or plain biscotti)

¼ cup butter, melted

2 tbsp sugar

3 (8 ounce) blocks of cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup honey

3 large eggs

1 vanilla bean

¾ cup pear puree or ½ cup pear nectar

½ cup flour

1 pear, peeled and finely diced

1 cup sour cream (optional)

¼ cup honey (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Boil a full kettle of water.

2. Mix together the cookie/cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter until the consistency of wet sand. Press into a 9 inch springform pan, across the bottom and coming up the sides slightly.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Cool slightly and wrap the bottom of pan in two overlapping layers of aluminum foil.

3. Combine cream cheese and honey and beat until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating after each addition. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and using the back of a small paring knife scrape the seeds from the bean.  Add the seeds to the cream cheese mixture along with the pear puree or nectar and the flour.  Mix until smooth. Finally, stir in the diced pear.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared crust and place in the springform pan in a larger pan. Transfer to the oven.  Before closing the oven door pour water from the boiled kettle into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

5. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the cheesecake seems firm but still slightly wiggles in the center.  Turn off the oven and close the oven door.  Keep in the oven for another 60 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the fridge.

6. Optional topping: Before serving mix together the sour cream and ¼ cup honey.  Pour over the cheesecake. (A nice touch or a way to disguise surface cracks.)

(Doesn't Dave Kelly look so enraptured by something?  Probably not me or my pears  - although I did manage to call them sexy on morning TV - but the segment went well.)