This week in the paper I wrote about Oriana Kruszewski a one-woman Johnny Asian-pear-seed who grows over 20 varieties of the fruit in her Skokie backyard. Unsurprisingly I wound up with quite a few pears that outlasted the research phase of the story. I was surprised to learn that the sweet and delicate Korean Giants I got from Oriana made good cooking pears. She advised that they can stand in for any old tart and sturdy European cooking variety, and there are professional chefs who visit her in the Green City Market that agree. On the day I hung out with her Mohammad Islam, executive chef at LA’s Chateau Marmont and a vet of Sarah Stegner’s kitchen at the Ritz, staked a claim on pears and black walnuts for early December when his Aigre Doux Restaurant and Bakery opens on Kinzie. (“She has the best black walnuts I ever tasted,” he adds.)

Riffing on a basic pear crisp recipe I found in, er, Woman’s Day Desserts, I chunked my pears, tossed them with ginger and five spice powder, and laid a gravel of Trader Joe’s Ginger Granola, flour, butter, and more five-spice on top. Initially I was hesitant to pull such a Rachael Ray move on this fine organic produce, worrying it would be disrespectful not to bake a cobbler or pie crust from scratch. But time got away from me and I just jumped.

Baking at 400 for at least an hour did not yield the gooey, fruity mess I’d envisioned, but the results weren’t bad. The Korean Giants held their shape, and remained crisp. Personally I prefer baked fruit desserts a few days old, after this resistance breaks down, but three days later they maintained a nice snap after some initial softness. Not a bad compromise. Not a bad breakfast.

Oriana has a simple, intriguing, if not precise, recipe for Snow Pear Soup, a savory/sweet Chinese brew of pears simmered in chicken broth with a translucent white growth known as Snow Fungus (aka “silver ear,” aka yin er). It is said to be good for the respiration in wintertime. “You don’t puree it,” she says. “The Chinese don’t puree soup. That’s what Americans do.”

Oriana Kruszewski’s Snow Pear Soup 

  • chicken stock
  • barley
  • Snow Fungus (or ask for silver ear or yin er in Chinese markets)
  • Asian pears, cut in half, cored, skin left on
  • almonds
  • Cook the barley in the stock. Add Snow Fungus, simmer until soft. Add pears and almonds. Simmer until pears are cooked. Oriana says carrots work well too.