Pear Pressure

My Rouses Everyday, September & October 2018

When flipping through old cookbooks or family recipe cards, there are some dishes that stand out because they conjure up warm and fuzzy thoughts of childhood: flaky biscuits pulled right out of the oven, or licking the spoon after helping Grandma whip up a decadent caramel cake. Other recipes, though, aren’t quite so lucky. They bring back memories of slimy okra thrown on the floor in a tantrum, or being coerced into eating just one more bite of pot roast before getting dessert.

For most people, pear salad — a seemingly strange combination of canned pears, shredded cheddar cheese, maraschino cherries, lettuce and mayonnaise — doesn’t stir up much fond reminiscing.

“Every time we went to our grandma’s house, there was always a sit-down dinner, and we’d always have pear salad,” remembers Brittney LeBlanc-May, events coordinator at Rouses. “I thought it was disgusting: mayonnaise on a pear with cheddar cheese? It looked gross, it sounded gross, and if you’re a kid, you don’t want to eat anything except macaroni and cheese anyway.”

Pear salad is one of those classic Southern dishes where the method of creating it is more of an art form than a science. Assembling the dish begins with (what else?) the sliced pear half, which is placed belly-up on a bed of iceberg lettuce like a sunbathing fruit starlet. The lettuce, Brittney explains, is an unsung but crucial ingredient in the dish. “The dish has to use that good ol’ 59-cent iceberg lettuce,” she clarifies. “Back when they started making this, they didn’t have all the fancy lettuces available they have now. The iceberg gives it that crunch.” A dollop of mayonnaise is then placed in the pear’s central hole, and the creation is topped with a generous sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese, along with a (preferably stem-on) maraschino cherry.

“You have to get a little bit of every ingredient in each bite,” she notes. “It’s particularly important to taste the cheese.”

While the ingredient list might seem a little funky at first glance, there is something almost radical about bringing these pantry staples together in a fusion of sweet, creamy and slightly salty that pushes the limits of what “salad” really means. Rest assured that if a high-end chef introduced this dish for the first time today, they’d be lauded as an avant-garde

Pear salad might not be a favorite among the under-10 set, but many of those who rejected it during childhood have now come to appreciate the dish for what it is: a tribute to the importance of family and tradition.

“I love pear salad now! It’s a LeBlanc family tradition. I’ll carry it on and, when I have kids, I’ll make them eat the pear salad. It’s important to tell them ‘Oh, this was your great-grandmother’s recipe.’”