A perfectly ripe pear can be the best things in the world to eat. The flesh is creamy, smooth, and sweet, and the juices so abundant they run down your chin. Their fragrance and flavor makes them a fall and winter favorite in desserts ranging from the elegant poached pear to more homey cobblers and crisps. It also has more savory uses: as part of a cheese course, sliced in a green salad, and paired with pork roasts. Pears come in a variety of sizes, with Seckels among the smallest and Bartletts among the largest; their colors range from yellow to tan to red as well.
Pears are picked in late summer and fall when the fruit is mature, but not yet ripe because, left to ripen on the tree, they become grainy. The best way to judge ripeness is to gently press the neck of the fruit near the stem with your thumb; if the flesh gives, the pear is ready to eat. A ripe pear will also often give off a delicious, sweet aroma. For cooking, pears should generally be "firm-ripe," or just at the beginning of the ripening window. In this case, look for ripe fruit that yields only slightly when pressed near the stem. If the pears are very hard when you buy them, they may need several days to ripen. You can hasten the process by storing them in a closed paper bag.
|Anjou (October March) This thin-skinned, egg-shaped pear can be bright green or deep crimson. It’s juicy, with a sweet, delicate flavor and creamy texture. When firm, it’s great for poaching, grilling, baking, and braising. When ripe, it’s best enjoyed raw.|
|Bosc (September April) Known for its slender shape and russet skin, the Bosc has a dense, grainy texture with a hint of nuttiness. Even fully ripe, this pear retains its firm bite, making it perfect for baking or cooking.|
|Forelle (October March) Bright yellow-green with red speckles, this small pear has a round base that tapers evenly to a short neck. It’s sweet, pleasantly juicy, and crisp, and holds up well to cooking.|
|Seckel (September February) Cute little seckel pears stand about 2-1/2 inches tall and are almost as big around, with an olive complexion and a beautiful crimson blush. Also known as sugar pears, the flesh is crisp, moist, and very sweet. It’s ideal for poaching, braising, roasting, canning, or pickling.
There’s some dispute over the origin of Seckel pears (Pyrus communis Seckel). They were discovered growing on a single tree outside Philadelphia in the late 1700s, but it’s unclear whether they’re a wild cultivar that occurred on American soil, or if they came from seeds brought over by German immigrants. The former is the preferred theory, and it makes the Seckel the only commercially grown pear that is originally American.
The Seckel pears cultivated today all descend from that single tree. They’re a popular crop because they’re naturally resistant to the fire blight disease that can decimate other pear varieties. They’re too small and delicate for mass distribution, however, so if you see some at your market, snap them up.
Like all pears, Seckels ripen from the inside out, so you can’t judge their ripeness by the color of their skin. Press near the stem; if the flesh feels soft, the fruit is ripe. Ripe pears can be kept at room temperature for about two days. Unripe pears will ripen if kept at room temperature for a few days. They can be refrigerated for up to about 10 days to pause ripening, or to prolong their life once they’re ripe.
Seckel pears make a great snack, especially for kids; their small size makes them perfect for little hands. If you’re going to cook with them, try to highlight their size. They can be halved or quartered lengthwise, cored, and poached or added to salads, tarts, and upside-down cakes. They’re delicious stuffed with cheese and quickly baked. For parties, try dipping the bottoms of whole Seckels in caramel or chocolate, followed by sugar or nuts.
With their sweet flavor, Seckel pears do well with a bit of bite. Try sprinkling them with assertive warming spices like cardamom, clove, and ginger before roasting. They’re also good paired with salty cured meats and cheeses, and creamy ingredients like mascarpone and crème fraîche.
|Comice (September March) With a distinctive stout body, the Comice is yellow-green with a rosy hue. It’s one of the sweetest and most succulent pears, with a rich, buttery texture. The Comice is best eaten raw or very gently heated in recipes.|
|Bartlett (August December) A large pear with a bell-shaped bottom and a slender neck, the Bartlett can be light yellow-green or a deep red with yellow freckles. It has a creamy texture, subtle flavor, and an intensely floral aroma. It’s an excellent choice for baked goods.|
Pears are often peeled before cooking or baking. Use a melon baller to neatly core whole or halved pears.
Keep pears at room temperature to ripen and then refrigerate if you need to hold them longer (about a week). If you’re in a hurry, put the fruit in a brown paper bag to speed up the process.