Living: Food, Health, Lifestyle, Garden, Pets

The Free Press WV

►  COOKING ON DEADLINE: Pear Tarte Tatin

Taxi cab confession: Before now, I had never made a tarte tatin. It sounded just plain scary — flipping a pan over so that the fruit ends up on top and the crust ends up on the bottom. Such drama! Why would anyone put themselves through such angst?

But there I was just minding my own business, and suddenly it was pear season, and the voluptuous, colorful, squatty fruits were everywhere. I bought some puff pastry, gave myself a big old pep talk, and turned up the music. An hour later, my first pear tatin was a success. A few pears stuck to the pan when I inverted it, but I pulled them off and settled them back into place on the tarte, and no one was the wiser.

And while I will have to accomplish a few more successful tarte tatins to feel as though it is no longer intimidating, I am now on my way. I can envision that day when I will be able to say with casual confidence: “Oh, can I bring a dessert? How about a tarte tatin?”

You want your pears to be just ripe, but not soft. They need to hold their shape in the baking. Buy yourself some good ice cream for this — you and your tarte tatin deserve it.

In closing, I take a moment yet again to profess my abiding love for premade puff pastry. I may be excited to add tarte tatins to my repertoire, but I’m pretty far away from wanting to make my own puff pastry.




The Free Press WV

Serves 6 to 8

Start to finish: 1 hour


1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

4 just-ripe but firm Anjou or Barlett pears

All-purpose flour for rolling out the pastry

1 sheet (1/2 of a 17/3 ounce package) puff pastry, either refrigerated and cool, or, if frozen, thawed according to package directions but still slightly chilled

Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream to serve


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a 10-inch, heavy ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, stir together the sugar with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, until the mixture starts to turn a golden color, about 6 minutes. Stir in the butter, and continue stirring occasionally until the mixture is a rich golden color, but not too dark. Stir in the lemon juice.

While the sugar mixture is cooking, slice the pears in half, then into quarters, remove the cores with a paring knife, and cut the halves lengthwise into two thick slices each (so, eight slices total per pear). When the sugar mixture is golden, arrange the pear slices in concentric circles in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the pears are slightly tender, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly flour a clean work surface. Roll out the puff pastry to a square slightly larger than the pan’s diameter. Trim the pastry into a circle just barely larger than the circumference of the pan, and prick the puff pastry in several places with a fork. Place the pastry over the pears and carefully tuck the edges around the tops of the pears (you may want to use a rubber spatula, as the pan will be hot). Bake for about 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and puffed.

Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the skillet, place a serving plate (larger than the pan) on top of it, and carefully invert the tarte tatin onto the plate. If any pears cling to the pan, remove them and place them back in their rightful spots. Let cool a bit more, and then serve warm, with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

►  GARDENING: Good corn taste is in the genes

The taste of sweet corn in the market has, to many palates, gotten better and better over the years. The taste of sweet corn that I grow is the same every year.

Still, my taste buds tell me that my corn tastes best.

It’s not from having a green thumb or a site particularly congenial to sweet corn; it’s all in the sweet corn’s genes.

The Free Press WV

Those good genes reside in the variety Golden Bantam, which debuted in 1902 and is, as far as I’m concerned, the tastiest corn there is. Seventy-five years ago, just about everyone would have agreed with me. When E.L. Coy sent the Burpee Seed Company those first 2 quarts of Golden Bantam seed, he also sent along a note that read, “You now have the very sweetest and richest corn ever known.”



U.P. Hedrick wrote in “The Corns of New York” (1934) that Golden Bantam “has been for several years the most popular sweet corn for all purposes. The name has been so thoroughly impregnated in the minds of growers and consumers that many of them will not accept anything else.”

Golden Bantam erased a prevailing prejudice against yellow corns, which had been associated with livestock feeds.

Despite present and past rave reviews, Golden Bantam corn is neither as sweet nor as tender as what you’ll pick up these days off market shelves or at farmers’ markets. What Golden Bantam has going for it is flavor; each chewy kernel is packed with sweet, rich, old-fashioned corn flavor.



Sweet corns first appeared in a seed catalog in 1828, and for decades thereafter the goal was to eke out the most sweetness by developing better varieties and shortening the time between harvest and eating.

Golden Bantam and other traditional sweet corn varieties owe their sweetness to a single recessive gene known as sugary-1. The main drawback of this gene, as far as farmers were concerned, was that the kernels rapidly lost sugar as soon as the ear was picked. (That’s not an issue for home gardeners, who can drop ears into boiling water a few minutes after they are harvested.)

That goal of the sweetest sweet corn was perhaps too fully realized with the discovery about 50 years ago of the so-called shrunken-2 gene of sweet corn. (Dried seeds with this gene are very shrunken and wrinkled.) This recessive gene imparts an enormous amount of sweetness to corn, and harvested kernels hold their sweetness for days. The main drawback of this gene is that the kernels have somewhat tough skins. Also, shrunken-2 plantings must be isolated from sugary-1 plantings, or the corns cross-pollinate and neither planting yields a corn that is sweet at all.

Enter the sugary-enhanced gene, discovered in the 1960s. It works in concert with the old sugary-1 gene. Sugary-enhanced gene corn holds its sweetness for days after picking, has tender — some say creamy — kernels, and does not need isolation from pure sugary-1 corns.



It’s all a matter of taste: If you want the sweetest of all corns, with a cracking texture, grow a shrunken-2 supersweet. If you want something less sweet but with good texture, grow a sugary-enhanced corn.

If your taste buds cry out for the richest corn flavor and you feel that today’s super sweet corns are just too sweet, things are not as simple as just growing Golden Bantam. Those 2 quarts of seed that Burpee received in 1902 were open-pollinated Golden Bantam, meaning that the seeds had been and could be saved for generations.

But Golden Bantam was so good that it sired other “Golden Bantam” varieties, such as Extra Early Golden Bantam, another open-pollinated variety. Soon after hybrid corn entered the garden and farm scene in the 1920s, the hybrid variety Golden Cross Bantam was also developed. Besides other qualities, it had larger ears.

Fortunately, Early Golden Bantam, Extra Early Golden Bantam and Golden Cross Bantam, as well as the original Golden Bantam itself, are all still available today. They’re all good, but none beats the original.

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