Pears start popping up around the end of summer and remain available well into the winter. The late-season fruit is grown on pear trees and shrubs in China, Europe, the United States, and other areas throughout the world. There are many varieties available, and they're all a little different. In general, pears have a sweet taste that is perfect for a range of foods, from salads to desserts and savory dishes to pear-flavored drinks. Delicious when eaten raw, pears are also often baked or poached.
What Are Pears?
The pear is a fruit that grows on trees and shrubs. A member of the Rosaceae family, it's a species of the genus Pyrus. Pears are most commonly teardrop-shaped, though some are round and look more like an apple. The skin is often green or red, and the fruits can be as large as a fist or as small as a golf ball. With dozens of heirloom and domesticated types, 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. 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.
Readily available from late summer into winter, pears are relatively inexpensive. They're easy to prepare, too. The skin is often left on, and the fruit simply needs to be sliced before it's added to recipes.
How to Cook With and Use Pears
There are pear varieties that are better for cooking and those that are preferred for eating raw. It's good to match the intended use with the type of pear you're buying.
The most common thing to do with a pear fruit is eating the fruit raw, though some people don't like the bitter skin. You can peel them and eat them in a winter fruit salad with apple and pomegranate or toss them into a bed of romaine with blue cheese and walnuts. Like apples, the pear's flesh is prone to oxidation when sliced. This can be prevented for fresh fruit uses by dipping pear slices in lemon juice immediately after they're cut.
Poached pears are a popular method of preparation. For this, the pears are peeled and left whole or cut in half and cored. Wine and fruit juices are commonly used to poach pears, and the fruit can be eaten as is or added to recipes. Baked pears use a similar preparation, though they're most often cored and halved or cut into smaller pieces.
In keeping with their season, pears go great with warming spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg to make a pleasing cold-weather dessert. Pears can also go the savory route if you skip the sugar and 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 Does It Taste Like?
Cool and sugary, a pear doesn't have an apple's crispness 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 that each variety tastes different.
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 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, a smoothie, 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. Most of the varieties available are Bosc, Bartlett, and Anjou, but occasionally you will find other types. The chances rise if you seek pears from an orchard stand or in a farmers market, especially if you live in Washington, Oregon, or New York. Another option is to grow a pear tree in your backyard, though it does take a few years before it will produce fruit. Don't shy away from ordering online either; pears are a popular addition to holiday gift boxes.
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. To help hard pears ripen faster, place them in a paper bag. 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 use, 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 pears to enjoy their sweet goodness year-round.
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 pear varieties are grown commercially, but so many more are produced across the country, and they're all worth exploring. Next time you're at an autumn farmers market, get a few types to try and suss out all the subtle and not-so-subtle differences found in this fruit.