At the end of summer, pears start popping up, which is an ingredient you'll see well into the winter. This late-season fruit isn't a stranger to the plate, though maybe not as beloved as other staples, such as apples and bananas. Don't overlook this sweet food, it shines alone, on top of salads, made into a cake, and in drinks too. Get down with the pear, and before you decide it's not your favorite, try one of the many varieties available, they're all a little different.
What Are Pears?
At first glance, a pear is a greenish fruit shaped like a teardrop. It's a species of the genus Pyrus and remains part of the family Rosaceae. Pears grow on trees or shrubs and can be as large as a football player's fist or as small as a golf ball. With dozens of types both heirloom and domesticated, there's no lack of pear variety, and most of them have unique nuances worth noting.
Pears have had a place on the table for centuries, and are one of the oldest cultivated fruits. Back in 5,000 BC, the Chinese diplomat Feng Li gave up his political career to graft pears and other fruits. Roman farmers grew pears and the food proved so loved that when Homer wrote The Odyssey around 750 BC, he stated that pears are a gift of the gods. You see pears in classic oil paintings from the Renaissance and the 18th-century holiday carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, which features a pear tree prominently.
Native to China and the regions surrounding the country to the southwest, pears made it to the United States along with the colonists. Today they grow best in the pacific northwest, though many states grow the fruit from New York to Colorado to California. China and Europe, namely France, also grow this fruit, and the three areas produce the most pears in the world.
What to Do With Pears
The most common thing to do with a pear fruit is munch on it raw, though some people don't like the bitter skin. You can also peel them and eat them in a winter fruit salad with apple and pomegranate, toss them into a bed of romaine with blue cheese and walnuts, or poach with warming spices for a festive holiday treat.
In general, pears go great with cinnamon and nutmeg. Baked pears that are spiced, plus honey or rum, are a pleasing cold-weather dessert. Pears can also go the savory route if you skip the sugar and just add spice to a crown of cooked pears around sliced ham or pressed between bread and brie cheese. Whether you cook pears or eat them raw, this versatile fruit has a place at every meal, be that breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
What Do Pears Taste Like?
Cool and sugary, a pear doesn't have the crispness of an apple but proves just as juicy. Once you break the bitter skin, you'll be rewarded with slightly soft white flesh that's easy to eat and oh-so-sweet. One of the neat things about pears is each variety tastes so different.
An Anjou is one of the most popular types of pear and has the flavor of what people think of when they think about a pear. Plus, it's soft and buttery with a bright sunny finish. Bartlett pears prove similar and have firmer flesh. The other widespread pear you'll see is Bosc, and it's brownish with a long body and crisper texture that works well cooked with savory dishes.
The skin is one part of the pear most people don't enjoy. Some skins are rough and have a strong bitter taste to them. Peel this off to skip the unpleasant sensation, or seek out a pear that doesn't have such a strong-tasting coating, such as Starkrimson, Forelle, or Seckel.
Pears can be used in both sweet and savory applications. Eat it raw, cook it up, turn the fruit into dessert or enhance fatty meat like ham with the ingredient's sweetness. No matter how you like to eat this fruit, pears have a lot going for them in the culinary world.
Where to Buy Pears
You will see pears from mid-summer all the way to late winter in just about every grocery store across the country. Most of the varieties available are Bosc, Bartlett, and Anjou, but occasionally you will find other types. The chances rise if you seek out pears from an orchard stand or in a farmers' market, especially if you live in Washington state, Oregon, or New York. Don't shy away from ordering online either. Harry & David are known for their gift boxes of perfect Comice pears during the holidays.
When shopping for pears gently feel around the stem of the fruit. If the spot remains firm give it another day or two and check again. If it's soft but not squishy it's ready to eat. Never buy pears that are mushy or discolored.
Keep pears in a cool, dry spot and out of the light if you want them to ripen slowly. If you get pears that are too hard you can put them in a paper bag and that will help ripen them faster. Don't keep cut pears in the fridge for long or they will dry out and oxidize. If you really want to keep a piece of this fruit in the fridge for quick salads or because your toddler didn't finish their snack, make sure it's in a sealed container and use within a couple of days. You can also peel and freeze pear slices, or can them for sweet pear goodness all year round.
Nutrition and Benefits
One of the best reasons to eat pears is to get your daily dose of fiber, which helps with a host of health issues. Pears also contain vitamins K and C, copper, potassium, and a little bit of protein. Even if the skin is a little bitter, try and eat it. The green variety has lutein and zeaxanthin, which help with eye health; and the red pear skin contains antioxidants.
There are dozens of types of pears in the world, though not all are available at your basic grocery store. Many pears are little-known heirloom varietals such as Harrow Sweet, White Doyenné, Clapp’s Favorite, and Belle Angevine. Eaters may be better acquainted with other heirloom types like the red-and-green Christmas Pear, the tiny Seckel, Red Anjou, and more. In the United States, about 10 pears are grown commercially, but so many more get produced across the country. Next time you're at a farmers' market in October, get a bunch of types to try and suss out all the subtle, and not-so-subtle differences found in this fruit.