Source: Nancy Teton Gordon
Pears are both beautiful and versatile. Their subtle yet distinct flavor is divine all alone, but it also marries well with other flavors, including dark chocolate, fruit sauces, or even wine or port! Pears, less often referred to as “butter fruit,” can be eaten raw, sautéed, poached, baked, or steamed.
Pears are popular as appetizers and desserts. In Europe, they are served with both hard and soft cheeses either before or after a meal—a tradition gaining popularity in America. Pears may also be substituted easily for apples in many recipes, especially salads and baked goods.
There are more than 5,000 varieties grown in countries with temperate climates. Pears used to be associated just with America and Europe (where the French were particularly adept at their cultivation, but they have become increasingly popular in Asian countries, who became very proficient at the production of apple or Asian pears. American crops tend to hail from the Pacific Northwest and California.
Some of the more popular American varieties include the following:
- Anjou—Features a light-green to yellow-green color, an egg shape with a short stem, and known as a good eating pear.
- Bosc—Russet-colored skin and an elongated, slender shape with tender, buttery flavor. Ideal for eating fresh as well as cooking, baking, or poaching.
- French Butter—One of the more delicate varieties with a sweet flavor that has a distinctive touch of lemon and very soft flesh.
- Red Bartlett—A classic variation of the common Bartlett with a red skin that is ideal for eating fresh as well as for canning. It’s also known as being one of the juicier varieties.
- Stark Crimson Red—Sports a brilliant red skin and has rich flavor. This variety is best eaten while still firm as they tend to become mealier than many of the others as they get riper.
Asian pears, the result of numerous cross breedings between pear and apple varieties, which has helped contribute to their different characteristics, are often called Oriental or apple pears. Their flavor is still mellow and sweet as with American pears, but their consistency is different, reflecting the crispness of apples.
Like bananas, American varieties of pears are not tree ripened, so they are typically sold when firm and must be ripened prior to serving. Avoid pears that have soft spots near the bottom end or the stem as well as any that have heavy bruises. Asian pears should always be firm. These estimated yields can help you determine how much to buy: One pound of pears or Asian pears is about three medium pears, 2-1/2 cups diced or 2-1/3 cups sliced or 1-3/4 cups of pear purée. While pears are available canned, we encourage you to take full advantage of fresh pears and consider canning them to savor throughout the year or to give as gifts.
Ripened pears should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a few days. If the fruit you have selected is very firm, it is recommended that you use a fruit-ripening bowl or store them at room temperature until the pears have become soft to the touch. (The exceptions to this are the Stark Crimson Bartletts and Asian apple pears, which soften from the inside out and should be firm for eating.) The Asian varieties are more forgiving and flexible as they will keep for up to two weeks at room temperature or three months when refrigerated.
Preparation and Cooking
Pears may be enjoyed simply eaten as is or peeled, cored, and cut into slices or wedges. If using them in salads, dip them in lemon juice to prevent discoloration of the cut edges. American pears, such as French Butter, Bosc, or Anjou, make an elegant appetizer when served with baked brie and garnished with dark raisins, currants, and chopped pecans or walnuts. Serve them on decorative leaves for an even more striking visual presentation.