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Pears

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

First cultivated some 4,000 years ago, pears are now grown in temperate regions worldwide, and so enthusiastically that some 5,000 varieties have been developed. In the United States, the pear is almost as popular as the apple, to which it is related. Both are members of the rose family, and both are pome fruits (those with a distinct seeded core). When eaten with their skin, pears are a good source of dietary fiber, providing slightly more than an equivalent number of apples. Pears are not consumed in the same quantities as apples, probably because they are not quite as hardy. They quickly become mealy if left to ripen on the tree, and they have a much shorter storage life.

Pear trees were brought to North America by early colonists. Though pear trees have a long lifespan (75 to 100 years), most of the original ones planted were killed by a disease called fire blight that is still prevalent enough in the northeastern part of the country to limit commercial cultivation. The blight has been severe in the Pacific Coast regions, and today 98% of the domestic pear crop is grown in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Pears, like bananas, are seldom tree-ripened. Growers pick pears when they are mature but still green and firm, allowing them to ripen in the market and at home. As pears ripen, the starch converts to sugar and the fruit becomes sweeter, juicier, and softer with an almost melting texture that led Europeans to nickname some of the varieties "butter fruit."

Varieties

Only four principal varieties and a few specialty types of pears are available in most areas of the country. Bartletts appear in summer, the others are available in fall and winter. A number of varieties are imported when their domestic counterparts are out of season. Each type has a distinct shape and color with subtle differences in flavor and texture.

Anjou: The most abundant winter pear, the Anjou, is oval shaped, somewhat stubby with smooth yellow-green skin and creamy flesh that has a slightly blander taste than the other leading varieties.

Bartlett: The leading summer pear and the most popular variety, the Bartlett accounts for 65% or more of commercial production. It is also the principal pear for canning and the only variety sold dried. Large and juicy, a ripening Bartlett turns from dark green to golden yellow, often with a rosy blush. Growers have also developed a red-skinned strain.

Bosc: A firm, almost crunchy pear, the Bosc has a long, tapering neck and rough, reddish brown skin. It holds its shape well when cooked so it is an excellent choice for baking and poaching.

Comice: This pear is generally regarded as the sweetest and the most flavorful. The Comice is favored as a dessert pear and is likely to be included in gift boxes and fruit baskets. It has a squat shape and a dull green skin that may show light blemishes and discolorations that do not affect the flavor.

SPECIALTY PEARS
Seckel: Seckel is the smallest pear variety and very sweet, which makes it ideal for snacking.

Winter Nellis: A spring pear with a squat shape, dull green skin, and firm flesh, Winter Nellis is excellent for baking.

Clapp: Clapp is a juicy, sweet pear with green-yellow blushed skin.

Forelle: Forelles are small, bell-shaped pears, with golden yellow skin and freckles that turn bright red during ripening.

Asian pears: Asian pears look like large, greenish-brown apples. They are quite crisp and have less of a pear flavor than other pears. They are in limited supply, and usually more expensive.

Availability

August through October is the height of the pear season, though one or another variety (supplemented by imports from Latin America, New Zealand, and Australia) is available year round. Bartlett pears are on the market from July through December; Anjou and Bosc pears from October through May; and Comice from October through December. Imported Bosc pears and a Bartlett-like variety called Packham are in season from March through July.

Shopping

Generally, pears should be relatively unblemished and well-colored. Some varieties will not develop full color until the fruit ripens. Bartletts turn pale yellow but may not develop their characteristic blush when they are ready to serve. Anjous stay completely green when fully ripe. Russetting, a brown network or speckling on the skin, is common on many types of pears and may indicate superior flavor.

Since they are always picked unripe, pears are a "plan ahead" fruit; they will usually be quite hard in the market and need additional ripening at home to soften and attain their best flavor. Some stores offer ripe or near-ripe pears, but unless these are individually wrapped and displayed just one or two deep, they are likely to be bruised by their own weight or by customer handling. If you find ripe, undamaged pears, handle them carefully until you get them home. Ripe pears will give to gentle pressure at the stem end, depending on the particular variety: Crisp Bosc pears and firm Anjous never get as softly melting or as fragrant as Bartlett or Comice pears. Do not purchase pears that are soft at the blossom end (the bottom), shriveled at the stem end, or those that show nicks or dark, soft spots. Small surface blemishes can be ignored.

Storage

You can ripen pears in two ways: Ripen them at room temperature first, then refrigerate them for no longer than a day or two before eating them. Or, refrigerate the pears until you are ready to ripen them--the cold will slow, but not stop, the ripening process. Remove the pears from the refrigerator several days before you plan to eat them, and let them ripen at room temperature.

To speed ripening, place the pears in a paper or perforated plastic bag and turn them occasionally to ensure more even ripening. The process will take from three to seven days. Never store pears--either in or out of the refrigerator--in sealed plastic bags as the lack of oxygen will cause the fruit to brown at the core.

Preparation

Pears are delicious eaten with or without the peel that contains some of the fruit's fiber. For other purposes, remove the core with a melon baller or apple corer from the bottom. Halve the fruit lengthwise and scoop out the core with a teaspoon or a melon baller. Peel very thinly with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, if necessary, and coat the peeled or cut pears with lemon juice to keep them from darkening.

Pears respond well to cooking, turning even more mellow and creamy. The cooking time will vary with the type and degree of ripeness of the pear; slightly underripe fruit will hold its shape better for poaching or baking than fully ripe, sweet fruit, which is best for making pear sauce or puree.

Baking: Bartletts and Boscs both hold their shape well during cooking. Core the unpeeled fruit from the bottom, then cut a thin slice from the bottom so the pears will stand upright. Or halve the pears lengthwise and core them. Stuff the halved pears, if desired, and place them in a baking dish with a small amount of liquid. Cover with foil and bake in a 325°F oven until tender, basting occasionally with the pan juices. Cooking time: 40 to 60 minutes.

Poaching: Pears may be poached in water, fruit juice, or wine. Red wine or cranberry juice will tint them a deep rose color. Add whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, or ground spices to the cooking liquid. To poach, rub peeled and cored whole pears with lemon juice, then place them in simmering liquid and cook, partially covered, until tender when pierced with a knife. Turn the pears once during cooking and baste them occasionally with the cooking liquid. Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes.

Sauteing: For a sweet and spicy side dish, saute unpeeled pear slices in fruit juice or stock; season with cinnamon, ginger, or curry powder. Cooking time: two to five minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Barlett Pear/1 medium

98
Total fat (g)
0.7
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
4
1
Carbohydrate (g)
25
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
0


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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