Pears — worth waiting for!

Summer is now winding down and fall is soon to arrive. That makes me sad – not because fall is not a beautiful time of the year, but because it portends the arrival of winter. Anyone who knows me knows that winter is not a happy time for me. Back to fall, though. One of the nice things about fall is fall produce. Pears are one of my favorite fall fruits. That wonderful fruit is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Since we see pears in our stores year round, we may not realize that they are at their peak in fall. As with so many kinds of fruit, there are many varieties out there but we only see a few at our local market. Let’s look at some of those that are easy to find as well as few that aren’t.

Anjou

This pear is short, squat, very plump with almost no neck. It’s skin is smooth and the flesh is firm but juicy. It is not overly sweet and has a hint of citrus. It comes in both red and green varieties. Although they differ in appearance, they are very close in flavor. The red ones are really more brownish than true red.

It is a great all-purpose pear and can be eaten raw, baked, poached or even used in savory dishes. It is available October through May.

Asian

Also known as the “Apple Pear”, this pear looks and tastes quite different than what we normally think of as pears. Other names include Japanese pear, Korean pear and Taiwan pear.

It is apple-shaped with matte light brown skin that is a bit gritty and rough. Biting into them, they will be crisp, almost crunchy and not very juicy. The flavor is sometimes described as a cross between jicama and apple.

These are best to eat raw in salads and slaws and are available August through February.

Bartlett

Another name for this popular pear is Williams Pear. They have delicate, thin skin, a sweet taste and a soft/juicy bite. You can find both red and yellow varieties. Although one of the favorites in terms of pear flavor, they are also very perishable.

These are wonderful for eating raw. They do lose their shape in cooking and so are good for using is sauces or making pear butter. Most canned and processed pears are Bartletts. They are available July through early winter.

Bosc (Kaiser Pears)

The skins of this type of pear may have a mottled brownish appearance with rough patches of light brown and a greenish skin. They are taller than other pears with an elongated slender neck and are fairly firm even when ripe. The flesh is white, sweet and crisp but can have a grainy texture. They have a strong pear aroma.

It can certainly be eaten raw, but since this pear holds its shape when cooked or baked, it is often called for in recipes where you want that shape such as in a poached pear dish, a pear tart or a salad. It is available September through the winter.

Comice

This pear has a wide, round shape with a bit of tartness and a soft texture. It is often called the “Christmas pear” due to it’s popularity in holiday gift baskets. It has yellow-green skin and often has a red marking on one side that comes from the sun hitting that spot. It has a delicate skin with sweet and creamy flesh.

It is delicious when eaten raw due to a fruity flavor and aroma and is particularly suited to pairing with cheese. It does not have the grittiness that you can get with some pears. It is also good for baking and is available September through February.

Concorde

These are a brighter green than other pears and have longer necks. They are very juicy and sweet. As they ripen, they develop a mellower and vanilla-scented flavor. Their flesh retains its color and doesn’t brown much when cut.

They are good for eating raw and for cooking as they retain their shape. They are available September through February.

Forelle

These are smaller oval-shaped pears and are known by their “lenticels”. As they ripen, their yellow-green skin turns bright yellow and red freckling/lenticels appears. They are very sweet and delicate.

They are available October through February.

French Butter

This is a European variety that is great for pear butter. They start off green and turn golden yellow as they ripen. They can be quite sour and tough if not ripe. Once fully ripe, they become juicy and soft with a slight lemony flavor.

They are available September through December.

Seckel

Another small pear (one or two bites) with firm flesh, they are great when you want to show off the whole pear such as in poached pears. The color ranges from pale green to deep red. They are more tart than other pears and can have a somewhat bitter taste.

They can be eaten raw, cooked or even canned. They are so small that that they can be preserved whole and are available September to February.

Starkrimson

These pears have a deep red color and a mild flavor that is a bit floral and sweet. They are available August through December.

Taylor’s Gold/Gold pear

Related to the Comice pear, its skin is a light golden brown and it is very aromatic. It is almost round with golden-brown skin. The flesh is sweet and juicy. They are great for making jams, jellies and sauces.

USAPears.org has a nice graphic rating pears on texture and taste. Here is a summary of this graphic.

Pear varietyTexture from crisp (1) to soft/juicy (10)Taste from sweet (1) to very sweet (10)
Green Anjou76
Red Anjou76
Bartlett108
Red Bartlett108
Bosc23
Comice910
Concorde410
Forelle41
Seckel23
Starkrimson108

When picking out pears, choose ones with smooth, unblemished skin and that are firm to the touch. Check for ripeness by gently pressing the neck and if it gives a bit, the pear is ripe. Pears do not fully ripen on the tree. (An exception is the Asian pear, which does ripen on the tree. They do not soften or get sweeter after picking.) Once you bring them home, allow them to ripen on the counter at room temperature, which may take 3-6 days. Once ripe, use within a few days or put in fridge. Put Asian pears in fridge right away.

Most pears do not change color was they ripen. The ones that do are:

  • Bartletts – turn from green to yellow
  • Red Bartlett and Starkrimson – turn a brighter red as they ripen
  • French Butter – turn from green to yellow
  • Forelle – turn bright yellow with red lenticels

So, what do you do with pears? I think the best thing is to eat them raw. Here are the best pears for that purpose.

  • Anjou – firm, mild flavor, juicy
  • Asian – crunchy, mild flavor
  • Bartlett – very juicy and among the sweetest of pears
  • Bosc – crisp with delicate sweet flavor, very pear-like
  • Comice – less grainy than other pears, clean, bright pear flavor, sweet, soft, juicy. Some say it is the absolute best pear to eat raw.
  • Concorde – juicy, vanilla-like flavor, smooth texture
  • French Butter and Seckel – make sure they are fully ripe

If you want a pear that keeps it shape when cooked/baked, Bosc is the best option but Anjou, Concord and French Butter can also work.

If you want a pear that falls apart, choose Bartlett. A nice option is to use a mixture of Bartlett & Bosc allowing you to get the best of both worlds.

When cooking with pears, they can be peeled or not. Some peels are smoother and some are rougher. Also, some peels get tougher when heated. Complementary spices to use are cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

Typical preparations include:

  • Poached in wine, syrup, fruit juice, water
  • Baking – tarts, pies, cakes
  • Jams, preserves, chutneys
  • Since they are related to apples, pears would be a suitable substitute for apples in recipes
  • Slice and toss in a salad. One of my favorites is a spinach & pear salad with a maple-bacon vinaigrette.

I wish it were easy to find all the different pear varieties in my local market. Right now, I can get Anjou, Asian, Bartlett, Bosc, Concord and Comice. What about you? What’s your favorite? What can you get where you live?