Neighborhood Trees and Pear Tarts

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Freshly baked Ginger Pear Tart

Ginger Pear Tarts

Fully-grown Liquid Amber street tree dwarfs neighborhood

“At Thanksgiving he would go home, and then he would be sure. He might never come back. He remembered that Abra had once suggested that they go to live on the ranch, and that became his dream. He remembered the great oaks and the clean living air, the clean sage-laced wind from the hills and the brown oak leaves scudding. He could see Abra there, standing under a tree, waiting for him to come in from his work.”

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Neighborhood trees

Inspiration

The trees in my neighborhood are magnificent Liquid Ambers. They are fully grown, standing in all their glory at sixty plus feet. They have been part of the neighborhood since it’s beginning in the late fifties, when our home was built. These trees can live for four hundred years! They are so large, the sidewalks have moved out of their way. Every fall the vibrant green leaves slowly turn golden amber and muted red. The leaves begin to drop, blanketing the neighborhood yards and streets. With the winter rains, our street gutters become clogged with leaves. The trees are so tall, leaves fall and blow into our back yard. Branches break off in the wind. One year, we arrived home from a trip to find our truck covered in a limb from cab to bumper. It was so large the city was called to cart it away. And yet, when I see the city’s Urban Forestry truck in the neighborhood I feel panic and dread. Our neighborhood would be empty without the comforting canopy of trees watching over us. Houses, cars, asphalt, cement and overhead wires would dominate our view. I listen for the trucks and pray “Please do not cut these magnificent trees down, please go away.” While making these Pear Tarts I had heard the trucks and their nasty little chipper and knew it was time to quietly say another prayer.

Essentials

I had been searching for the diminutive golden Seckel pears I had heard so much about and came upon them at the Aptos Farmer’s Market. I didn’t know what I was going to make with them, and in my excitement purchased only a half dozen. At home I put them in a lovely wooden bowl, while I pondered their fate. Along came some very small red Bartlett Pears in my weekly CSA box. I now had short rotund Seckels and tall thin Bartletts. I choose to make individual tarts, with slices of the longer Bartletts fanned around the moon shaped Seckels. Any ripe pears may be used to make these tarts. But smaller fruit will look more appealing and be easier to arrange in the individual pans.

Golden Seckel pears from Aptos Farmers Market

Golden Seckel pears from Aptos Farmers Market with nutmeg and ginger

Red Bartlett pears from The Farm's weekly CSA box

Red Bartlett pears from The Farm's weekly CSA box with nutmeg

Inspired and adapted from The Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham

  Ingredients
6 4 1/2″ tarts pans, with removable bottoms
  Ginger Snap Crust
14 oz of gingersnaps ( I used Trader Joe’s)
1 T candied ginger
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
5-6 T of unsalted butter, melted
  Custard
1 egg
1/3 C milk
1 t vanilla
  Pears
8–10 small pears, Seckel if available
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 C brown sugar
1 lemon, zested
  large knob of ginger, peeled, cut in half
1 T candied ginger
2 T ginger syrup or honey
  To Finish
2 T ginger syrup, honey or warmed strained apricot jam
1 T candied ginger
1 T sugar
  fresh mint sprigs, optional
Preparing the tarts for baking

Preparing the tarts for baking

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Crust: In bowl of the food processor combine: gingersnaps, candied ginger and the nutmeg. Whirl until the gingersnaps turn into crumbs. Slowly add the melted butter, just until the crumbs begin to clump together. Stop and test , the crumb mixture should stay together when pressed between your fingers. (It is easy to add too much butter, resulting in a greasy crust.) For individual tart pans, scoop 1/3 C of the crust mixture into each of the six pans. With the back of a spoon press and flatten the crumbs on the bottoms and sides of the pans. I used a bit of the leftover crumb mixture to finish the sides on some of the tarts. Place the individual tarts on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, just until firm. Set aside to cool while preparing the pears and custard.
  3. Custard: In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Set aside while preparing the pears.
  4. Pears: Peel the pears. If you are using Seckel pears, cut them half and gently remove the stem and core. For larger pears, core and cut into slices. The ideal size is determined by the size of the tart pan you are using. The pears should be of a size that can be arranged in a pleasing manner in the tart pan. If you have very large pears, a 9″ tart pan will give you a more visually pleasing dessert. In a large sauté pan melt the butter with the brown sugar, ginger and lemon zest. Cook until the mixture begin to caramelize. Then add the pears, keeping them in one layer. Gently turn them, just until they are cooked. Do not overcook the pears, as they will become mushy and fall apart. The syrup will continue to thicken as the pears cook. If it does not, remove the cooked pears, turn up the heat and cook until the syrup thickens. Remove the ginger and discard.
  5. Prepare the tarts: When the pears are cool enough to handle arrange them in a visually pleasing pattern in the tart pans. Distribute all the syrup from the pan evenly among the pans, covering the pears. Then ladle the custard into the pans. Sprinkle a bit candied ginger on top of the filled tarts. Place the individual tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for approximately twenty minutes until the custard has set.
  6. To plate: Let tarts cool for thirty minutes, then unmold into serving dishes. Brush the tops of the tarts with ginger syrup. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and candied ginger. Garnish with mint. Lovely served with ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.
  7. These tarts are best served the day they are baked.

    Produce and flowers at Aptos Farmers Market

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5 Responses to Neighborhood Trees and Pear Tarts

  1. Gretchen says:

    Lucky you to have a Fannie Farmer cookbook – they are great books! (I was just nosing through my mother’s copy over Thanksgiving and wishing I had one myself.)

    • Deb says:

      It is a wonderful cookbook, that I return to again and again. But the newer cookbooks with photos are so very enticing the older gems can be passed over. Thanks for commenting Gretchen!

  2. What a lovely post! These sounds absolutely divine (I love ginger and pears). So glad I found your site!

  3. Pingback: Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Hazelnuts and Sage | East of Eden Cooking

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