There are over 5,000 varieties of pears grown throughout the world in temperate climates. France is known for its superior pears and in the United States most of the crop comes from California, Oregon and Washington. Mother Nature protected the easily bruised pear by making it better when picked while still hard. Unlike most fruit, it improves in both texture and flavor after it's picked. Pears range in shape from spherical to bell-shaped and in color from celadon green to golden yellow to tawny red. Ripe pears are juicy and, depending on the variety, can range in flavor from spicy to sweet to tart-sweet. Pears are in season from late July to early spring, depending on the variety. Choose those that are fragrant and free of blemishes and soft spots. Store at room temperature until ripe; refrigerate ripe fruit. It's not necessary to peel pears before using, but, if they are peeled, they should be dipped in Acidulated Water to prevent the flesh from browning. For cooking, choose fruit that is still quite firm. Pears are also available dried as well as canned in either water, sugar syrup or their natural juice. They contain small amounts of phosphorus and vitamin A.
Pears (Pyrus communis) are a pome fruit relative of the apple. One of the earliest written histories or records comes from Homer's reference to them as "Gifts from the Gods." The first pears arrived in the United States by European settlers in the 1700s. Pears rank second to the apple as the most popular US fruit. They can be eaten and used in a lot of the same ways as the apple. One distinct feature of the pear besides the shape is the soft texture. This soft texture is the result of the starch converting to sugar after being picked from a tree to ripen. (Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, 1992).
The very shape of a pear speaks of its luscious nature. When ripe and ready to eat, the pear has a honeyed flavor and beckoning perfume that bewitch your senses. There are more than 3000 known varieties in the world. US production comes from states in the Northwest, plus New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California. Imports come from South America, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.
With the numerous varieties and extended growing seasons, pears of all sizes and colors are available year-round.
Sweet, succulent pears are perhaps the most glorious of fall fruits. Selecting them can be easy if you consider the following: avoid pears with bruises or cuts and dark brown colors; purchase pears while slightly green because they ripen better and faster off the tree; look for pears with a smooth unblemished skin; ripe ones will yield slightly to gentle pressure at the stem end. If you plan to bake pears, select those that are fairly firm.
There are several varieties of pair including Anjou, Bartlett, Bose, Comice, Forelle, and Seckel. These fruits have a sweet, rich flavor and come in a variety of colors including green, golden yellow and red. Among these varieties there are only subtle differences in flavor and texture.
Pears come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors from tiny Seckels to long-necked Boscs to colorful Red Bartletts. Check out their availability and use below.
Green Anjou — Available October through June Firm and green, even when ripe; this large, thin-skinned yellowish-green pear is best eaten fresh. When slightly under-ripe, it can be baked or poached, but once it ripens, its sweet, mellow flavor and abundant juice make it an excellent choice for salads and snacks.
Red Anjou — Available October through May Much the same flavor, use and texture as the green Anjou. Red Anjous (generally dark, maroon red in color) show little to no change in color as they ripen, which is another characteristic shared with their Green Anjou counterparts. Red Anjous are recognizable for their near egg-shaped appearance.
Yellow Bartlett — Available August through December One of the most common and popular pears, this large, bell-shaped all-purpose pear has a yellow skin sometimes blushed with pale red. It is very sweet, juicy, aromatic and perfect for salads, eating fresh, and excellent for canning or cooking. It holds its shape and flavor in baking and cooking.
Bosc — Available August through April The Bosc has a firm, dense, yet tender flesh with brown skin that hides a deliciously, sweet and spicy flavor. Its dense flesh makes it ideal for baking and cooking. Color doesn't change as it ripens, excellent for baking. Its mild, not-too-sweet flavor is great for microwave recipes, salads, and snacks.
Comice — Available August through March Is hard, green, and rounder than a Bartlett, but similar in flavor and texture. One of the largest, sweetest and juiciest varieties. Best used fresh in salads, served as an elegant dessert pear, or as an excellent accompaniment with cheese. This is the variety of pears sold at Harry & David.
Forelle — Available September through February Slightly larger than a Seckel, with freckled skin and a red blush. For what they lack in size, Forelle pears make up in sweet flavor and beautiful appearance. They're an excellent snack or lunch-box pear…sweet, juicy, and crisp.
Seckel — Available August through February Tiny pears with ultra-sweet flavor, so sweet in fact they are called "sugar pears." Maroon and olive green in color, with no color change when ripened. They are an excellent choice for children's snacks, pickling, or as a garnish.
Wash and Eat
There's no need to peel a pear... their tender, edible skin is an additional source of fiber. A medium sized pear provides 4 grams of fiber, or 16% of the recommended daily value. Always wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before serving.
If pears are unripe, place them in a paper bag at room temperature for 2 to 3 days or store them in a ventilated fruit bowl in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate as soon as they ripen. Ripe pears should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag up to 3 days. They continue to ripen after harvest.
Pears have no cholesterol, sodium, or saturated fat. They offer a natural, quick source of energy, due largely to high amounts of two monosaccharides: fructose and glucose, plus Levulose, the sweetest of known natural sugars, found to a greater extent in fresh pears than in any other fruit. A pear is a nutrient dense food, providing more nutrients per calorie, than calories per nutrient. Carbohydrates make up 98% of the energy provided by a pear, and carbohydrates are helpful in weight reduction diets because they contain half as many calories as fat.
Fresh pears offer dietary fiber, much of it in the form of Pectin. A pear weighing 166 grams provides 2.32 grams of crude fiber, and 4 grams of dietary fiber, of which 41% is pectin. Fiber contains no calories, and is a necessary element of a healthy diet, helping to sustain blood sugar levels and promoting regularity. High fiber diets may also help reduce the risk of colon cancer and can help reduce serum cholesterol. Pears are a good source of natural fiber.
Fresh pears offer potassium; 210 mg in a medium size pear. Although it is an element lost easily through dehydration or perspiration brought on by active lifestyles or strenuous exercise, potassium is necessary for maintaining heartbeat, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, as well as carbohydrate and protein metabolism. Replenish potassium by eating fresh vegetables, fruits or legumes containing high potassium content— pears are an excellent choice.
Fresh pears contain Vitamin C. One medium size pear provides 7 mg, or 10% of the RDA for Vitamin C. As one of the antioxidant vitamins, Vitamin C is essential for normal metabolism and tissue repair, helping prevent free radical damage the destructive by-products of the body's metabolic process. Vitamin C improves the immune system and promotes healing of cuts and bruises and guard against a number of infectious diseases. Fresh pears are a good source for Vitamin C.
- Fruit of the Month: Pears by the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, public domain government resource—original source of recipe