Canned pears lend their versatile flavor to sweet and savory dishes alike, which makes them the perfect candidate for innovative utilizations amid pandemic restrictions.
By Thomas Smith
Pears have been growing into new roles for years, and creative uses of the fruit have been on the rise since the pandemic’s onset. As many classrooms have gone remote, canned pears have witnessed innovative utilizations. Plus, a resurgence of canning from home-bound culinarians taking up pandemic projects makes the fruit a great addition to culinary instruction.
An Ohio-based grilled cheese restaurant chain called Melt Bar and Grill has added canned pears to their menu in a bold way and is the perfect example of how canned pear customizations are taking place in foodservice establishments. The Korean War Pig combines muenster cheese, Korean-style barbeque spareribs, pear-cilantro relish, and spicy kimchi slaw — all between two slices of bread. Melt’s owner, Chef Matt Fish, said canned pears have a great flavor profile and texture that ties the sandwich together without being too overpowering.
“The Korean War Pig is a good go-to sandwich for an adventurous eater or someone looking for a very unique experience because it represents what we do very well,” Fish said. “It's one of our bigger sandwiches. It's one of the more filling sandwiches. It's got a great flavor profile. It's got a good texture profile. It checks all the boxes for us. It's definitely one of the more unique sandwiches on the menu and it's fun to talk about because once you tell people that these are the types of sandwiches that we create it blows their mind a little bit.”
Canned pears are highly efficient in the restaurant world, where labor is almost always the largest expense. Although the pandemic has been hard for restaurants across the board, Fish said he is fortunate to be in business with the right partners. Even though Melt offers in-demand comfort food and enjoys strong support from Ohio communities, the restaurant chain with nine locations has had to pivot numerous times in the last year to avoid going out of business.
The Korean War Pig started as a quarterly feature, then became a monthly feature before earning its place on Melt’s full-time menu. Fish said customers would ask for the sandwich specifically while it was on hiatus from the menu — a surefire sign that a dish is working. The grilled cheese inspired by Korean street food also fills a once-absent Asian cuisine niche in the menu.
“Asian food is extremely popular,” said Brenda Wattles, a chef and dietician who partners with school boards to design balanced meals. “It's on the rise big time, and kids love it.” She added that a good strategy for planning school menus is to observe what foods children are eating outside of school.
Similar to the restaurant industry moving toward a grab-and-go delivery style, many K-12 school systems have had to make that pivot as well.
“I'm really having to stop and think about not only the flavor profile and the nutrients, but whether a recipe can be packaged for grab-and-go and curbside pickup,” Wattles said. “We're starting to work toward getting schools back into session, but I think we're changed forever. We're going to be thinking about ways to keep our kids even safer, which might mean a lot more grab-and-go and curbside pickup for kids to get their meals.”
School dieticians face another challenge beyond delivery methods; balancing children’s nutritional needs with the kinds of foods kids will eat. Fortunately, pears have a great flavor profile that works well in kid-friendly cuisine. Wattles said recipes like Bahn mi wraps, savory flatbreads with bacon, green flatbreads with spinach, breakfast wraps, Caesar salads with chicken, and even nachos have had a great success utilizing the subtly sweet flavor and rich texture of canned pears. Pears pair well with cheeses, hold up well to spicy food, and can be caramelized for extra sweetness and crunch.
It is a common misconception that canned pears are not as healthy as fresh pears. Canning fruit preserves all the nutrients it has at the time it is picked, including vitamin c, which deteriorates with exposure to air. Pears are also a low-calorie source of fiber and other nutrients that kids and adults need to stay focused and energetic throughout the day. Eating canned foods is good for you, but so is eating ripe foods, and Wattles said eating a wide variety of foods is best.
Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service Promotion Director Susan Renke said, “Canning is really part of our American heritage. So many grandparents and great grandparents used to can all the time and people don't really do it that much anymore. It's a great way to preserve the flavors of things that are ripe.”
The CAN DO Challenge, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service, encourages cooks to think about what they can do with canned pears. The contest has inspired inventive culinary creations for the past three years. Any non-commercial chef may enter into 2021’s challenge by submitting a photo and recipe before the end of April. Contestants are judged by how appealing and unexpected their dish is. The grand prize is $1,500, but everyone who participates will get a $10 gift card to Starbucks. Click here for more details.
Renke said pears have been prominently featured in many salad bars, but also work well in sauces, smoothies, baked goods, and so much more. Plus, canned pears can be used without the syrup they come in, or the syrup can be cross utilized. Although salad bars may be a thing of the past, wildly innovative applications of canned pears signify that the juicy fruit will continue to have a place at the culinary table.
“Pears can be added to many recipes,” Wattles said. “They are fun in wraps, on salads, and on flatbreads. Spiced pears to go over ice cream, waffles, or pancakes, which is also a great kid favorite. Pears pair well with so many other flavors and are great in many dishes.”