Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Pear pie (Αχλαδόπιτα)

The pear trees on the hills above the village of Fournes are neglected by the owners of the fields they border. This makes them a forager's delight. The area has a sharp incline, so if you aren't much of a walker, you don't live close by, or you don't own a car, you won't be able to enjoy their fruits when in season. These pear trees are situated very close to our olive grove, so whenever we visit, we pick a few pears - a few pears from each tree, that is. Put it this way: we are doing those pear trees a favour; if we left them to their own devices, most of those fruits will drop on the ground and rot away uncherished.

pear tree

Local variety of pear - in Crete, pears are called 'apithia' (απίδια)

We picked these pears in mid-August when they were quite unripe. Stored in a dark cool place (the fridge is OK too), they slowly ripen and can be eaten over the next six weeks. After that, they started to take on a tried beaten look. Because they are de facto organic, they begin to decompose. To eat them fresh, you have to trim the brown parts off. They should preferably be peeled because the skin becomes tough. In any case, they have lost their sheen and are overly juicy.

apidia ahladia pears

I know they won't be eaten in my house, because appearances count for much more than taste in today's generation of fussy eaters. Pears are not often turned into pitas in Cretan cuisine, but I managed to turn them into a delicious sweet pie. I call it a pie because I adapted it from a μηλόπιτα (apple pie) recipe, but it comes out looking more like a cake. The basic recipe for the cake comes from an apple pie recipe, which I adapted to suit the ingredients in my kitchen.

You need:
about 3 pears - I used about 10 small organic ones, which needed to be trimmed of bad parts
2 cups of self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of milk
1 vial of vanilla powder

3-4 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 sprinkling of cinnamon
a pat of butter (optional)

Peel the fruit, clear them of woody parts and chop them into small chunks. Set them aside.

In a mixing bowl, place the flour, salt, eggs, sugar, oil, milk, vanilla and eggs, and beat well to combine. The mixture will look like a batter, not a dough. Grease a round baking tin (I used an 8-inch diameter terracotta mould) - I always use olive oil for greasing pans. Pour the batter into the baking tin and drop all the fruit onto the batter. Don't worry if some of the fruit sinks into the batter. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the fruit, and then dust the top of the pie with cinammon. If you want the top of the cake to take on a crusty look (like mine), dab a few tiny pats of butter (don't melt it) over the pie. Cook on medium heat (about 180C) until the top of the cake takes on a deep golden brown colour (about 30 minutes). Insert a knife into the pie to check if the batter is cooked at the bottom of the pan; if it isn't, change the oven settings so that only the lower element of the oven cooks, and let the cake cook for a further 10-15 minutes.

ahladopita pear pie

This cake is a perfect start to autumn, when it is cool enough to start baking again after the long hot Cretan summer. The best accompaniment to this soft moist cake is a cup of good quality coffee.

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