I know what you’re thinking. “Pear and fig? Huh? What an er…unusual combination.” It wasn’t exactly an intentional pairing so much as one that was borne of a little mishap. My friend Tracy, physicist extraordinaire, was coming over for dinner, bringing supplies to make the pear crisp from the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated. She dutifully bought the right variety of pears days in advance and waited for them to ripen in a paper bag. She conscientiously premixed the crisp, nutty topping for easy assembly once she arrived at my house. But as she was about to drive over to my apartment, several miles away, she realized she hadn’t brought the proper baking dish. She jumped out of the car, retrieved the dish, and was on her way when she realized that the pears were missing. My dear Tracy, in her rush to come over and start baking, had left those precious, slow-ripened pears on the roof of her car as she drove over. At this point, I probably would have called it a day and either skipped dessert altogether or picked up something pre-made at the grocery store. But Tracy, ever intrepid, decided to retrace her driving route in the hopes of finding her bag of pears intact on the side of the road. Long story short, she showed up, breathless, 20 minutes later with three pears in hand, the others having already been squished into fruity roadkill.
Our choice was to either make a hugely disproportionately crumble-heavy crisp or substitute some of the fruit I had around the house. With only strawberries and figs on hand, we decided that strawberry-pear was an even weirder combination and went for a sort of autumnal palette, mixing fresh brown turkey fig quarters in with the pear slices. And it turned out pretty tasty. I don’t know that it was the best vehicle to show off how glorious fresh figs truly are (I staunchly maintain they’re best raw), but the combination was perfectly nice and as Dylan slurped up the leftovers that night, he declared that it was better than with pears alone.
The American’s Test Kitchen crew modified the traditional apple crisp recipe quite a bit in order to make it work with pears, which can get mushy when baked and ruin the crispiness of the topping. They also developed a terrific triple-ginger topping as an alternative to a standard crisp topping. Pear and ginger are a classic combination and pear-fig-ginger? I’d like to think it’s just as good.
Rather than retyping the very long original pear-only recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (complete with illustrations and the whole delightfully anal America’s Test Kitchen thoroughness) , you can find it here. If you happen to lose your pears in a freak driving accident (or if you’re just feeling adventurous), I’d suggest 3-4 figs per pear omitted. For instance, we used 3 pears and 12 figs, cut into quarters. There’s a plain variation, but if you like ginger at all, definitely live it up and go for the triple-ginger topping (scroll to the bottom of the recipe). My only regret? This would have been sensational with a little fresh whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Next time…