Dec 13, 2020 | Recipes

December is upon us, and this year’s holiday season may not be as jolly for many of us, but we still need to nourish our bodies and souls. That means preparing foods that boost our health, many of which can be comforting as well. In the spirit of the season and with our health on our minds, I am focusing on pears, cream of root vegetable soup, and foods that boost our health during a COVID-19 winter.


Of all fruits, pears seem synonymous with the holiday season. (Though if you asked a child, they may say “sugarplums,” which unfortunately, are just hardened sugar balls that contain no fruit.) Pears grow in the U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 10 and, depending on the variety, are harvested from August through February. There are seven common types of pears, all of which can be divided into two simple categories: European and Asian (Epicurious – 7 Types and Varieties of Pears). At about 100 calories each, pears have many health benefits and are a good source of vitamins C and K, fiber, and antioxidants (9 Health and Nutrition Benefits of Pears).

At our former property in the North Valley, we had both Asian and Bosc pear trees that produced abundant large perfect pears every year (being late bloomers, they weren’t susceptible to damaging late frosts). I learned a lot about pears then. Pears are one of only a few common fruits that don’t ripen on the tree; you store them inside a punctured paper bag in a cool place or refrigerator until you are ready to ripen them. They reach peak texture and flavor when left to sit at room temperature and are ready to eat when their neck yields to gentle pressure. I also learned that your friends, neighbors, and co-workers are only going to volunteer to take so many pears, so you give away plenty to the food pantries and then discover new ways of storing, preserving, and using them.

To ready your pears to store in the freezer for future baking or cooking, peel them first, as their skin grows tough when heated. You can peel your pears with a paring knife or vegetable peeler or submerge them in boiling water for about 30 seconds and peel them with your fingers by sliding off the skin. Slice them in half lengthwise, core them, and then cut into slices or chunks. Layer them on a cookie sheet and pop them into the freezer until frozen, and then store them in freezer bags until you are ready to make that cobbler, pie, or bread or a savory main meal. With the other fruits I grew, I discovered many delicious barbeque sauces that can be made with a variety of fruit and then canned or frozen. I’ll share my plum chipotle barbeque sauce recipe in a later column. One instant pot savory pear dish that is a must try is the Pear BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Pear Slaw.

If you have received a gift box of fresh pears from a dear friend or relative or have pears you have harvested sitting in a paper bag in the garage or refrigerator, there are many ways to consume them freshly ripened. If they are too ripened you end up with a mushy, grainy pear. Add a slice or two to your grilled cheese sandwich. Or when hosting a party or asked to bring an appetizer or dessert, slice the pears lengthwise, core them using a melon baller, cut them into thin or thick slices, and serve them topped with sliceable or warm gooey brie, the perfect compliment. You can also consider adding to your appetizer or dessert tray slices of honey crisp apples topped with sharp cheddar cheese and a bowl of raspberries stuffed with a chip or two of white chocolate. For more fruit and cheese pairing ideas, check out the The Cheese Whisperer’s Blog.

Creamy Root Vegetable Comfort Soup

I chose the One-Hour Cream of Winter Vegetable Soup for this month’s featured recipe due to its quick and easy preparation, heartiness, nutrition, and versatility. I have made this soup multiple times—once as written and other times substituting and adding ingredients and using different techniques. As written, you throw carrots, leeks, turnips, potatoes, garlic, and a bouquet garni in a pot, cover with water, and simmer until tender for about 40 minutes. You then run it through a food mill using a course blade.  However, you can also use an immersion blender for a less chunky soup or a blender for a silky smooth soup. I’ve also substituted various root vegetables for the turnips and have added a variety of spices to supercharge the flavor. Included at the bottom of the recipe are some of my recommendations for substitutions and additions. Use your imagination and the ingredients you have on hand to whip up this soup on a cold winter evening to satisfy your own tastes and cravings.

Foods to Boost Your Health in COVID-19 Winter

(Note: This nutritional information comes from a Wall Street Journal article dated 11-17-20. Like the New York Times, unless you have a subscription, you won’t be able to view the link. Therefore, I have summarized this important article because we can boost our health by the foods we eat.)

With COVID-19 cases surging as winter approaches, our energy levels and immune systems could use a boost. We often turn to comfort foods on cold, dreary days. Eating the right foods can strengthen our bodies in better ways. Here are some of the most helpful nutrients for winter, and the foods to find them in.

Vitamin B12: Found in foods such as milk, meat, and fortified foods like breakfast cereals. Vitamin B12 can help combat the winter blues. It plays an important role in producing serotonin, which helps regulate mood, thwarting symptoms of fatigue and even depression.

Vitamin CFound in foods including citrus fruits, tomatoes, and potatoes. Vitamin C helps the immune system function properly. It won’t likely cure or prevent colds, but it has been shown to slightly reduce the duration of symptoms. It may also help those whose systems are under strain.

Vitamin DFound in fatty fish, eggs, liver, and mushrooms. Some researchers are looking into links between vitamin D deficiencies and COVID-19. Findings from studies examining the use of vitamin D to prevent or treat COVID-19 are not conclusive, though some are very promising.

ZincFound in foods including oysters, red meat, poultry, crab, and lobsters, as well as beans, nuts, and whole grains. Zinc can help the immune system fight bacteria and viruses. Research has shown that taking zinc at the first sign of a cold can shorten its duration.

IronFound in foods including meat, seafood, poultry, beans, spinach, and iron-fortified cereals and breads. Not getting enough iron can lead to anemia, which symptoms can include tiredness, memory and concentration lapses, and reduced ability to fight infections.

Wishing You a Healthy Holiday Season,
Cassandra D’Antonio
Chair, Garden2Table Outreach Committee


This deceptively simple soup is made with root vegetables that you can find in the supermarket. Using different pureeing techniques, you can make the soup as chunky or as smooth as you’d like. Though the recipe makes for a good and hearty comfort soup as is, it can also serve as a base recipe that readily takes on the flavors of all kinds of spices and allows for substitutions depending on what root vegetables you have on hand. Use your culinary creativity or the recommendations I provide at the bottom of the recipe to make a soup that will satisfy your tastes or cravings. 

Ready in 1 hour | Serves 6


2  large leeks (1 to ½ lbs.), white parts only, cleaned, and sliced ½ inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 large carrots (10 oz.), diced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1 large or 2 medium turnips (10 oz.), peeled and diced
1 lb. of russet potatoes
1 bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a few sprigs each of thyme and parsley
¼  cup crème fraiche
Salt and black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley or tarragon for garnish


  1. In a large pot, combine the leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes, bouquet garni, 1 ½ quarts of water, 2-3 teaspoons of salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 to 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.
  2. Pass the soup through the coarse blade of a food mill.
  3. Return soup to the pot and whisk in ¼ cup of crème fraiche (or more to taste). Heat through and adjust seasonings, being generous with the salt and pepper).
  4. To serve, ladle soup into large bowls and garnish with a spoonful of crème fraiche and parsley or tarragon.

Substitution Recommendations

  • Substitute russets for sweet potatoes, and turnips for parsnips, rutabagas, or celery root.
  • Substitute leeks for shallots.
  • Leave root vegetables unpeeled for more fiber and vitamins.
  • Sauté vegetables in olive oil prior to adding water or stock.
  • Use vegetable or chicken stock instead of water.
  • Mix up the herbs in the bouquet garni and garnish.
  • Add a teaspoon or two of your favorite spices (garam masala, allspice, cumin, smoked paprika, or curry).
  • If you don’t have a food mill or prefer your soup creamier, use a blender or immersion blender.
  • Substitute crème fraiche for coconut milk, sour cream, heavy cream, or yogurt.
  • Add a splash of sherry vinegar or another acid to brighten the soup.

Recipe by Martha Rose Shulman

Published by: The New York Times

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