Use It Up Season

Maple-Pear Tea Cake. Plate by Mar Harrison
Old accounts of life in Vermont—everywhere really—used to note that spring, before the new crops started to yield, was the “hunger season.”  Stores of food were mostly gone, with the exception, perhaps, of some limp root vegetables, sprouting potatoes, and rotting apples in the root cellar. 
These days, in North America at least, hunger is more likely to be a year-round consequence of an unequal economy and not diminished food stores.  Still, neither forest nor fields are offering up fresh local foods just yet.  For the thrifty homesteader and localvore, it is “use it up season,” time to make sure you have eaten all the fruits and vegetables, jams and pickles you have put by, to make room for this year’s harvests.
I have a tendency to save frozen berries for a “special treat.”  So they are one of the items that tends to linger in the freezer.  Not so with tray-frozen wild blueberries, which were eaten as a snack by the handful and gone before the first frost.  Canned pears is another item that tends to linger, perhaps because of my insistence on canning in “healthy” apple juice rather than a sweet sugar syrup.  Sprinkle it with sugar, I say, if that’s what you want!
This year’s maple syrup crop was meager at my house—only a couple of quarts.  But the yield from 2011 was so great that even though I gave away plenty as gifts, there is still more in the freezer.  So when it was time to bake a treat for the Ripton Community Coffeehouse concert this month, a Maple-Pear Tea Cake was the obvious choice.
Ingredients for Maple-Pear Tea Cake, including pears canned in apple juice
I'm no Marie Antoinette.  I know that cake has nothing to do with real, physical hunger.  But in this season, when we hunger for working in the garden and renewing our outdoor lives, a sweet treat is always welcome. 
Maple-Pear Tea Cake
Serves 8 to 12
The combination of maple syrup and pears is heavenly, and this cake proves it.  A pint of pears yields one loaf; a quart would yield a double batch.
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoons salt
2 large or 4 small pears, peeled (if fresh) and diced
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten 
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Butter a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan.
2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the pears, tossing them to coat with the flour.
3.  Beat together the maple syrup, brown sugar, melted butter, egg, sour cream, and vanilla.  Stir in the dry ingredients. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. 
4. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake has begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
5.  Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Invert onto a wire rack and finish cooling.  
A very moist slice. Plate by Mar Harrison
From 250 Treasured Country Dessert.  © 2009 Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff.  All Rights Reserved.