Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one man struggles against a sea of his own bad decisions and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to make food. I’m your Hammy House-Hamlet, and today’s post is about a dish that I am, honestly, about ready to disassociate with. Let’s talk about Pear Crisp, and also, poor planning.
Let The Lord of Chaos Rule
That was the latest in a series of titles called “Jokes for Nate, Who I Know Only Sometimes Reads the Site”. Anyway, I don’t remember if I mentioned it on Thursday’s post, but I have NOT been in the holiday mood these past couple weeks. Not in a purely negative way, but in the sense that I honestly just kind of kept forgetting that Thanksgiving was coming, despite television commercials and cast members commenting on it multiple times in my presence.
It takes a lot of cognitive dissonance to write a review of a Thanksgiving special, FOR Thanksgiving, without emotionally accepting that it IS, in fact, Thanksgiving.
Also, I missed this on Thursday, but grapes would not have looked like that in Late November in the 1600’s.
I think this is in part due to the transient nature of the last couple weeks of my life: between Port Orchard, Leavenworth, and Newport, I’ve been dealing with three very different literal climates/natural environments so it hasn’t “felt” like fall to me. Heck, for half the time I’ve been in Newport, the weather has been beautiful sunny days. Combine this with the other moving pieces of this trip, and it’s no wonder that it didn’t REALLY hit me that it was Thanksgiving until…about 2 PM on Thursday. And even then, it was more of a “wow, time has been FLYING.” sort of feeling, since it meant I’ve been staying at my cast-mate’s place for 3 weeks.
Which is a little frustrating, as a food blogger, because this season is RIFE with culinary questions and topics to discuss: What’s the difference between stuffing and dressing? What’s the best way to cook a turkey? And there are plenty recipes that are connected to the season: pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie…Alright, there are a lot of PIE recipes connected with the season.
Sometimes the pies are even cakes.
And I haven’t been cooking much these last few weeks, partly from helping to get the play on its feet, and partly due to a little quirk in my brain: I don’t like people to see me doing chores.
Yeah, even just writing it out makes it sound weird, but…yeah, that’s a thing that I really feel. I think it originally came from the fact that my mother has a very hands-on approach to household chores, as well as very definite opinions on how they should be done that she doesn’t always, you know, communicate, which meant that if she saw you doing something incorrectly, she’d just shoo you away and take it over. Then, when I managed an apartment complex for 3-ish years, I started doing the various cleaning tasks at night, because if I did them during the day, I’d get stopped by tenants with various questions, complaints, and stories that, while (mostly) perfectly valid or understandable, would serve to throw off my schedule and interrupt the work. Anyway, over time, I’ve just got this weird mental hang-up of “I don’t want to go do that now, because someone might walk in, and then I’d be in the way, or have an awkward conversation, or (INCREASINGLY REMOTE OR UNLIKELY SITUATIONS)”. In short, I seem to have given myself a stupidly niche and utterly ridiculous sounding form of social anxiety.
My path to eventual hermit-hood grows stronger by the day.
To work around it, I strive to only do most chores if I KNOW I’m going to be alone for a while. Which works at my house, and in Leavenworth, since the former left me alone most of the day, and with the latter, I know the hours of our shop, and therefore roughly when people will get back from work, but it has been almost crippling during my time here in Newport. Though, to be clear, when I say “almost crippling”, I mean “it has driven me to sit in my room watching YouTube videos rather than doing chores”, which, again, I understand doesn’t SOUND like an actual problem.
But it does lead to issues: I bought the first batch of pears for this recipe something like 19-20 days ago, and then just…didn’t make the dish, because I didn’t want to be in the way when people with more demanding schedules or a family to care for needed the kitchen. So eventually the pears went bad as I lurked in my room, until around Thursday this last week. I definitely needed to make the crisp, because I had nothing else for today’s post, so it seemed I would need to gird my loins, face my stupid fears, and cook with people around. And then one of the roommates moved out, taking her kids and dog with her, and suddenly I went from “vastly outnumbered quasi-intruder” to “1/3 of the household”. And THEN another roommate needed a ride to work, so I explicitly knew I would be alone for the next few hours, meaning I could cook the crisp with loins ungirded, and fears unfaced. Yay for avoiding personal growth!
Huzzah for functional emotional stasis!
So enough of my neurotic natterings, let’s get down to business, and make what is surely a challenging, multi-faceted dish with a rich history.
I can Pear-ly Contain Myself
Pear crisp is super easy, simple, and doesn’t have a particularly compelling or rich history.
My addiction to literary dramatic reversals (or, in layman’s terms “Calling myself a liar”) aside, the latter statement is CLOSER to accurate than the former, with some wiggle room on the history side of things. One of the added downsides to delaying so long to make the dish is that I had relatively little time to…well, research it. Since I made it Saturday, that meant I only had Saturday night, Sunday, and Today to dig into the history. And I had already booked myself pretty tight this weekend. As such, I’ve only been able to devote about 30-40 minutes to very surface-level stuff: a “crisp” is a type of “crumble”, which is, in turn, a variation on “cobblers”. Both Crisps and Crumbles became popular during World War 2 since they were less resource-intensive than pies, and thus were easier to make during rationing. The terminology used is both structurally relevant (cobblers don’t use oatmeal in their top crust, while crumbles and crisps may) as well as regional (Crisp is the more American term, as the English use that to refer to what we call ‘chips’, because they’re using THAT word to refer to what we call ‘fries’.)
And sometimes the crisp chips are flavored like festive pies, making things even more messy!
This is to say nothing of slumps, pandowdies, and betties, all vital variations that we’ll discuss another time. Let’s do it Thursday, in fact. I needed a topic, and I was only vaguely aware there were so many options in this set of baked goods to discuss.
So, if I didn’t pick the recipe for historical interest, why did I pick it? Well, as I noted in the Fall Harvest Minestrone post, one of my housemates for the month is Vegan, thus I’ve been focusing a lot of my culinary creativity on vegan dishes, in order to minimize the amount of ‘cross-contamination’ as it were. Further, as a bit of a show-off: My director has, at multiple points in the last few weeks, referenced me as a “chef” to people, especially in the window where we were trying to establish where I would live for the month I was here, a descriptor I always attempted to clarify, but it can be difficult to explain. (“yes, technically, I cook for money. But it’s for the internet, so it doesn’t really count” seems to be the most efficient response.) As such, due to the timing windows I had, I figured I could make the crisp, bring it to the show, and have a little confidence boost/pay-off of my friend’s faith in me.
Spoilers: it goes pretty good.
So, if it’s so simple, let’s get it done!
Rule 1: Things Never Go Smooth
Now, if you’re at home, in your well-stocked kitchen, let me tell you, you’ve already conquered the first and most difficult hurdle I faced. Which is that I was not at home, nor was my kitchen particularly well-stocked. By which I really mean I ran into the ongoing problem of un-shared expectations: as I alluded to way back in our fifth post on the site, just because you or I believe a specific item is a common and necessary component in a kitchen does NOT mean that everyone agrees with you. As such, I was totally prepared to make this dish Thursday night, when I discovered that there’s no baking dish in the house. Which I totally get. I only personally use a baking dish maybe once every 3 months, so it’s not like it’s a COMMON kitchen tool, even in my repertoire. So Friday, I hunted down a local thrift shop, and bought one for $10.
Technically, it was an estate sale store, so this is kind of an heirloom now.
A corollary to that was the need for another component: this recipe is, as I said, very simple: toss some fruit with spices, sweetener, and binding agent, then bake for almost half an hour. Make a topping out of oatmeal, spices, sweetener, and binding agent, toss it on top, and bake for a little over half an hour, let cool before eating so you don’t burn your mouth like a big ol’ dummy. That’s it. 3 real steps, and one of them is “wait”. However, in addition to the lack of a baking dish, I didn’t have a mixing bowl. What I DID have is a large piece of Tupperware, which served the task admirably. Especially when I realized I had something of a fruit fiasco on my hands.
The recipe I used, from Forks over Knives magazine, a magazine dedicated to vegetable-focused cooking, recommended 8 medium pears for this dish, to fill a 2-quart baking dish. And maybe it’s just that I live in the Pacific Northwest, a bountiful land of produce and pretention, but I have NEVER found my produce numbers matching up with recipes. I’ve had recipes tell me that 1 medium onion will give me half-a-cup of chopped onion, and discovered that, nope, the ‘medium’ onion I had bought was TWICE that size. As such, it came as a moderate irritation when I had thinly sliced 4 of my 7 pears (I had one of the pears in my new batch go bad in the time it took me to make this), and found that I already had more than 7 cups of pears!
I also had a n empty can of Modelo and blurred vision, because multitasking is the name of the game.
Clearly, I had what would have been considered large pears. Or my quarts were somehow smaller, one of the two. IN any case, I had 2 quarts worth of pears with only half my fruit cut, which was honestly a relief, because the slicing of the pears is, assuming you have baking dishes and bowls in your kitchen, easily the most involved and frustrating portion of the recipe.
Take your thinly sliced pears, and toss them with some flavoring agents. Specifically, the recipe calls for ground ginger, a touch of cinnamon, and pure maple syrup.
AKA Canadian Crack, The Sweet Stuff, The Maple Monster, etc
Could you use table syrup, or maple-flavored syrup? Probably, but I was taking a recipe from an uber-healthy vegetarian magazine, so I felt I had to stick to the real stuff, as they recommended. Also, portability: of the two kind of hoity-toity ingredients in the recipe, the syrup was the easier one to store and move. (The other was ‘whole-wheat flour’, which I was unwilling to buy a 2-lb bag of so I could use three tablespoons of it, compared to the eight tablespoons out of the bottle of syrup.
Then you add the flour and toss it all together, so that the flavors can meld and the juices can thicken as the pears cook at 375 for 25 minutes covered, to keep the moisture in the fruit. While that’s happening, you can go goof off for at least 15 minutes, before coming back to put together the topping. The topping is similarly pretty simple: oats, cinnamon, chopped nuts, salt, and another five tablespoons of maple syrup (to sweeten AND bind the topping) And while I’m sure you could get away with any kind of nuts, but the recipe calls for, and I will definitely recommend, using pecans.
Brought to you by Glare. Glare: When Jon’s too dumb to notice the lighting is bad.
Pecans are perhaps my second-favorite nut after walnuts. That bag is not mostly empty because it’s a small bag and I chopped the majority of them for the ¼ cup of nuts this recipe called for: no, this bag was at risk of being completely eaten by ME before I made the recipe. Luckily, I exercised a rare touch of self-restraint, and held back to share this recipe with you.
Once your topping’s on, you take the cover off the baking dish, pop it back in the oven, and wander off for 35 minutes. When you come back, the pears will be thick and bubbling, and the topping lightly browned.
Some of it VERY lightly browned. Practically Pale.
Now, I finished my batch about 10 minutes before I had to head out to show call, so I didn’t get to try any until I was already there and, unthinkingly, had set my phone down in another room. And…personally, I wasn’t SUPER impressed. Don’t get me wrong, it was perfectly fine. Warm fruit, crunchy topping…I guess my biggest complaint was A: I could have used a little more cinnamon, and B: being from Washington, I’m just a lot more used to these sorts of dishes being apples, so the dish FELT wrong, despite being correctly assembled. As I already showed, it was a notable hit with the cast and crew of the show, so clearly I was in the minority of opinion on the matter, and that’s really all the confirmation I need. So if you want a simple fall dessert for a potluck or dinner, might I recommend you try the crisp?
THURSDAY: THE CULINARY COMPENDIUM RETURNS, TO DISCUSS CRUMBLES, CRISPS, AND OTHER PAN DISH. ES.
MONDAY: JON MAKES SOUP. ISH. SOUP BASE. MAYBE SOME ACTUAL SOUP, TOO, WE’LL SEE.
8 medium or 4 large pears, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
3 tbsp* pure maple syrup
3 tbsp white flour (preferably whole wheat)
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp* ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
5 tbsps* pure maple syrup
¼ cup chopped pecans
¾ cup quick cooking oats
¼ tsp sea salt.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss together all filling ingredients, and pour into a 2-quart baking dish. Bake, covered, for 25 minutes.
2. Mix together all topping ingredients. Spoon onto the baked pears, and return to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 35 minutes.
3. Let cool on a wire rack or other raised, heat-resistant surface, and serve warm.