Beloved since the time of Ancient Rome, pears are one of fall’s best fruit. But let’s face it—they’re not as easy to love as apples, probably because they only reveal their deliciousness to those with the intel to pick and ripen them right. Treat pears well, though, and you’ll end up with a “gift of the gods” (in the words of immortal Homer).
3 Rules for Perfect Pears:
Choose Wisely. When shopping for pears, look for fruit that is smooth, free of bruises, and firm. Pears should have bright, shiny skin.
Ripen Them If They Need It. Pears are often sold unripe, but that’s not a problem—they ripen beautifully on the countertop. Leave them unwashed and stand them on their bottoms to ripen at room temperature. To speed up the ripening process, put pears in a paper bag with a ripe banana or apple.
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Keep Pears Ripe. You can tell a pear is ready to eat when the flesh just below the point where the stem joins the fruit yields evenly to gentle pressure. Pears for salads or cooking can be a little less ripe. Once pears are ripe, they will keep in the refrigerator for three to five days. If you’re serving uncooked pears, sprinkle the flesh with lemon juice to prevent browning.
There are two main categories of pears: fall or winter. You will find fall varietals (such as Bartlett) at the farmer’s market first because they do not need to be stored for long after picking. Winter pears (like Bosc) do not mature properly unless they are left in cold storage for two to six weeks after picking.
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Anjou pears are firm, mild-flavored pears that need seven to ten days to ripen. Green Anjou pears are the most abundant variety in the US and are delicious eaten raw or cooked. The Red Anjou is sweeter and milder than its cousin.
Bartlett pears, which date back to the 1770’s, need four to five days to ripen and turn from green to yellow. They can be used in canning, pureeing, or baking when a little green, or can be eaten raw when ripe (beware of the juice!). Red Bartlett is sweeter and smoother than its cousin and likewise versatile canned or preserved or eaten raw. Bartlett pears will fall apart when cooked—perfect for pear sauce or pear butter.
Bosc pears are crisp, with a sweet flavor, and need five to seven days to ripen. They are perfect for poaching and baking (as in a pear tart) because they keep their shape best.
Comice pears, which also need five to seven days, are less grainy than other pairs. They are wonderful raw (especially paired with cheese), poached, or used in desserts.
For a visual guide to ten varieties, click here.