As a minister of one of Bluefield, West Virginia's largest churches, Westminster Presbyterian, my grandfather received untold numbers of food gifts during the holiday season. Lucky for my family, that was the one time of year we visited my grandparents. One of my fondest memories was going down into the basement where several boxes of pears — gifts from parishioners — were kept in cold storage, each piece of fruit carefully laid in a bed of paper confetti.

Pears make such a beautiful, healthful gift. They're full of natural sugar and dietary fiber. And one cup of pear slices — that's about one small pear — contains just 81 calories. That also represents 4 grams of dietary fiber, more than two slices of whole-wheat bread. Pears are considered a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K and copper, and their skin is very high in antioxidants and more fiber.

A gift of pears is truly a gift from the heart.

When selecting pears, as with any fruit, it's wise to choose those with no major blemishes, dents or bruises. After picking, pears ripen best at room temperature.

Here's how to pick out a perfectly ripe pear, by variety:

* Bartletts are the most popular California pear and the sweetest. When green, it's firm and crunchy. Fully yellow, it's sweet and juicy.

* Sunsprites, nicknamed "baby Bartlett" because of their similar shape, stay green but have have a yellow tinge when ripe.

* Bosc pears are a popular in desserts and are always brown; when ripe, their stems start to shrivel.

* Comice pears have a red blush but generally stay yellow-green throughout the ripening process. When ready to eat, the area around the stems will soften.

* Anjou pears, which may be green or red, stay the same color when ripe. Gently press your thumb next to the stem; if it gives a little, they're ready to eat.

Once you get your pears home, keep them on the kitchen counter to ripen. It usually takes five to seven days. If you're in a hurry, put the pears in a paper bag with a banana or apple; the pears will ripen in one to two days.

Once fully ripe, pears may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

I found the following recipe a while back at when I was looking for something to do with some ripe pears sitting in my kitchen window. The combination of sweet pears with tangy Gorgonzola is outstanding.

Pear and Gorgonzola Pizza

1 (16-ounce) package refrigerated pizza crust dough (or homemade if you're so inclined)

4 ounces sliced provolone cheese

1 Bosc pear, thinly sliced

2 ounces chopped walnuts

2 1/2 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Place pizza crust dough on a medium baking sheet. Layer with provolone cheese. Top cheese with Bosc pear slices. Sprinkle with walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned. Remove from heat. Top with chives, and slice to serve.



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Anne Braly