Heading into Fall with Pears

From left: Anjou, Red Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Conference

With the start of pear season, we thought a little primer would be in order for all you wanna be pear-ophiles. There’s more than a million hits in the blogosphere for how to sauté, bake, puree, poach, soak, wrap, drizzle, mash, and just plain ol’ how to cook with pears. We won’t go there but will do you one better with a few quick  seasonal tidbits. Also, check out the recipes below.

Most North American pears are grown in Washington and Oregon (73% as of 2009). With more than a thousand hybrids, pear trees are easily crossbred but named varieties are typically grafted since they don’t grow true from seed, much like squash.

Fruit growers pick pears once their sugar levels reach the correct point, but they may still be very firm and “green”. Left to linger longer, tree-ripened pears will soften to the point of disintegrating. Fresh pears should feel solid and can be ripened at room temperature, but avoid excessively hard fruit when you’re shopping. Fruit that yields slightly to pressure near the stem indicates ripeness, and mushy brown spots can be a sign of core spoilage. Allow pears to ripen for a few days on the kitchen counter, then put them in the refrigerator where they’ll last for a few more days.

Leading varieties usually found in American supermarkets include the following:

Anjou: Also known as the Beurre variety, Anjous originated in France. Their skin is yellow-green or light green, and they have tender, juicy flesh that is less granular than other types.

Bartlett: Called the Williams Pear in England, this is a very popular variety that ripens to bright yellow from light green. There is also a Red Bartlett. Bartlett pears are delicious eaten out of hand and also are excellent when cooked.

Bosc: The Bosc is native to Belgium and has distinctive, thick, brown to yellow-brown, non-shiny russet skin. This pear has an obvious neck and distinctly crisp flesh. It is used in cooking and baking, as well as for eating raw.

Comice: These pears derive their name from the phrase, Doyenne du Comice, meaning, “top of the show,” as they are often celebrated as the best pear variety. Originating in France, they are now grown in North America and have yellow-green or russeted skin, ripening to pinkish-brown. The flesh is smooth, juicy, and a warm, creamy white.

Conference: These are English winter pears that have taupe skin with a long and slender shape. The variety was named for the award it received at the 1885 International Pear Conference.

Peak Market Seasons

Though pears are available year-round, their peak seasons are as follows:

Anjou, Conference, and Bosc: August through May

Bartlett: August through December

Comice: August to March

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