By Dawn M. Swidorski
Pears, which are a member of the rose family, are one of the oldest cultivated fruits with records dating back to China and 5000 BC. Pears were a valuable commodity among the trading routes of the ancient world because of their versatility and long storage life.
Frequent subjects of the works of Renaissance Painting Masters, pears have long been a “still-life muse” for artists. In the 17th century pear cultivation began taking place in Europe. And of course most know that the pear tree was immortalized alongside a partridge in the 18th-century Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Although there are hundreds of varieties of pears, the most common are Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Forelle, Seckel and more recently the Asian Pear (which isn’t pear shaped at all).
For me the Bartlett pear is my favorite as it has the “quintessential” pear flavor and aroma and is good for eating fresh and for preserving into jellies, jams and chutneys. Apparently many others agree since the Bartlett makes up 60% of the domestic sales of pears.
- Anjou pears are very juicy and smooth when ripe and have a sweet mellow flavor great for eating out of hand, with cheese or in salads.
- Bosc pears are firmer with a spicy sweet flavor and slightly crunchy texture. Their dense flesh make them ideal for baking, poaching and even grilling as well as eating fresh.
- Comice pears are often noted for their smooth texture and juicy flesh, which goes well with cheese or as an elegant fresh dessert or in fruit baskets.
- Forelle pears are small and sweet.
- Seckel pears, are often called sugar pears for their super sweetness.
Pears do not ripen well on trees so they are harvested when mature but still unripe and need to be ripened after harvest.
Bartlett pears change from green to yellow as they ripen. Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Seckel and Forelle do not dramatically change color as they ripen.
Because pears ripen from the inside out, the best way to check for ripeness is to “check the neck”. To do this, gently press near the stem with your thumb. When it gives to gentle pressure it is ripe and ready to eat. If you wait until the pear is soft around the middle chances are it will be overripe. Refrigerate ripe pears to keep them from ripening further. But refrigerating unripe pears will stop the ripening process so just leave them on the counter handy and ready to eat.
Pears are very versatile. In addition to being served raw pears can be baked, poached, sautéed, roasted and grilled. They can be used as an ingredient in baked goods, and can be made into preserves, jams and chutneys. In fact, anything that can be done with an apple can be done with a pear and you only have to taste a pear pie or pear butter once to know how wonderful they truly are.
Pears are loaded with fiber, low in fat, no cholesterol, low in sodium and a pear averages about 100 calories – The perfect low calorie snack!