SEATTLE — Too many pears is a happy problem to have. At a sad time recently, someone sent a box of bereavement pears, not something to belabor here except to say that the gift — with one pear, mysteriously deemed special, wrapped in golden foil in the center of the cushioned box — actually helped in a small way, which is kind of all one can hope for at a sad time. We put them in a pretty bowl on the table and admired their curvy beauty; we ate them, the first few at ambient temperature, then chilled as they ripened all at once and it became apparent we had too many pears. It turns out that when it’s hot out, eating a juicy chilled pear while standing in front of the open refrigerator can be a small moment of pure joy, if you let it be.
Trying to figure out what to do with the pears as the ripening tumbled made for a nice distraction. We weren’t equal to anything remotely difficult, nor to anything involving a hot oven, which most pear recipes — both those gathered from an oversized personal library of cookbooks and those found by Googling “best pear dessert recipe” — require either or both of. While admittedly not rocket science, the idea for grilled pears with vanilla ice cream, very good honey and black pepper took just about the amount of thought that was available, and then yielded a reward that felt outsized in its cooling comfort and sweet joy.
Many recipes for pear tarts and such make the absolutely appropriate serving suggestion of vanilla ice cream, a trusty friend to fruit and to us all, always there and always better than you expect when you stop to think about its cold richness — subtly tropical rather than plain, really. For a local/family-owned/sustainable/etc. option that’s easy to find hereabouts, Snoqualmie Ice Cream’s vanilla bean, made with Madagascar vanilla extract, is dense, velvety and not tooth-hurtingly sweet. My mass-market favorite is Häagen-Dazs vanilla bean, with its many tiny flecks of the latter (and which, for what it’s worth, rated well in a recent Washington Post taste test along with Trader Joe’s French vanilla, Tillamook vanilla bean, Costco’s Kirkland option and Ben & Jerry’s).
Or make your own vanilla ice cream — nothing will taste better, and I salute your wherewithal.
What else would pair with verging-on-overripe pears and vanilla ice cream? I remembered that we still had some of The Honey, which is how I’ve come to think of the exceptionally dark, thick, caramelly raw buckwheat honey from the Yakima Valley sold by local company Villa Jerada. It costs $13.99 for a 16-ounce jar, which is a lot for honey, but when it’s used in a way that allows the amazing work of these particular bees to shine it is 100 percent worth it, in the context of enjoying our limited time on this Earth. (The Honey is available online, as well as at select stores around here and nationwide — check villajerada.com. )
The pears we were gifted definitely came from afar — that big company named after two guys from whence boxes of fruit always seem to come — and by the time we put together this absurdly easy dessert, the pears were so ripe that grilling would’ve made a mush of them. But in August, local pear season is upon us — seek some out at the farmers market for maximum greatness — and it is peak grilling season, too, so …
Finally, the black pepper might sound odd, but with the three kinds of sweetness here — fruity, creamy, sticky — it doesn’t taste peppery, instead just adding a certain small spark that’s thankfully different from yet another salted-caramel-type situation. Tellicherry peppercorns are the cream of the peppercorn crop, but in the grand scheme of things, the perfect peppercorn matters very little, and whatever you’ve got on hand is more than good enough.
Grilled Pears With Ice Cream, Honey and Black Pepper
The pears here — any kind, but ideally local and in season, which in Washington starts in August and goes into fall — should be ripe but still firm (wait for the point at which they give a little when gently pushed near the stem).
1/2 or 1 pear per person, depending on size of pear/appetite of person
Tablespoon or 3 of grapeseed oil or another high-heat neutral oil
Your favorite vanilla ice cream
Honey (the fancier stuff is very well worth it here)
Fresh-ground black pepper
Clean your grill grate with a wire brush — a balled-up piece of aluminum foil works, too. Get your gas or charcoal to medium-high heat.
Cut the pears in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Brush the cut sides of your pear halves with oil using a pastry brush.
Lay the pears on the hot grill, cut-side-down, for 4-5 minutes; resist moving them for 2 minutes so you can get nice grill marks, then check for doneness. You want the cut side seared, with the flesh cooked throughout until tender.
Fill each pear with a scoop of ice cream, drizzle with honey, top with several grinds of pepper and eat immediately.