Where the sidewalk edges the church parking lot, a lone pear tree lives in a fistful of dirt against an old brick wall. There’s not even room for a dandelion. This solitary pear tree is never watered, fed or pruned, yet each season it drops a blanket of rotting fruit crying for recognition beside the holy path. This year Darlene sent a crew up ladders until a bushel of small, green, hard Seckels stood in the church office next to a stack of bags and a sign saying “free.” The pears, strong in character but weak in appearance, weren’t popular. Neither were they wormy, but they were freckled, streaked, blemished, and some misshapen. Visitors thinking of rosy-cheeked golden Bartletts and slender-necked russet Boscs in the supermarket shunned the local organic, ugly Seckels.
I noticed them, delighted at the prospect of giveaways, and scooped them up. I knew they’d need time to ripen and that they’d prefer the dark, so I spread them in the basement, covered them with newspapers and checked every few days. Three weeks later the pears had yellowed and begun to soften. Their juicy flesh liked a pinch of cinnamon and a sprinkle of brown sugar. . .and I remembered the Ballymaloe Spiced Pan Roasted Pear Cake. Reducing the butter and sugar from the original recipe makes a light teacake or a brunch pastry. Warm from the oven, it welcomes a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream for dessert.
Spiced Pan Roasted Pear Cake
1 oz. unsalted butter (2 tablespoons)
3 1/2 oz. brown sugar (1/2 cup)
small pinch salt
4 oz. all purpose flour (1 cup minus 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 extra large egg
3 1/2 oz. sugar (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or pure olive oil)
1/4 cup grated pear
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (use microplane)
6 small pears, peeled, halved, cored or 3 regular pears cut in sixths
Melt butter in 8-inch cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle on brown sugar and melt over low heat. Add tiny pinch salt.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Peel and cut pears.
Beat egg, add sugar, oil, ginger, and grated pear; whisk together thoroughly. Place flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon in sieve and sift over egg mixture. Beat together.
Circle pear halves, rounded side down, over brown sugar and butter, or pinwheel pear pieces around pan. Keep skillet over very LOW heat. Spread batter over pears. Bake at least 40-45 minutes or until well browned and tests done. If pears are especially juicy, the cake needs extra baking time to thoroughly cook the cake’s center. When the cake is deeply browned and tests done, remove from oven.
Allow cake to cool 5 minutes. Loosen edges and turn cake upside down onto flat serving plate or wire cooling rack. Scrape out any remaining bits of caramelized sugar and smooth it onto the cake sides. Serves 6-8.