What's in Season: Pears
Buying and Storing A Favorite Fall Fruit
Pear season begins when Bartlett pears start arriving at the Greenmarkets in late summer. They're soon followed by Bosc and Comice which are in season in the fall through winter. The Anjou is known as a winter pear. But right now they're all available with a large and peak selection in our stores and Greenmarkets. Since there are many to choose from, which you buy will depend upon what you're going to do with them.
While it's always best to eat fruit when it's truly in season, because New York gets produce from all over the world a pear may still be delicious despite being out of the local growing season. The only way to really tell is by buying one and tasting it.
Here are the most popular and commonly bought varieties:
- Comice -- Many consider this the best eating pear with a smooth and sweet flesh.
- Bartlett -- The most common pear, this is a sweet and juicy fruit with a green skin that ripes to yellow, sometimes with a blush of red. Best for eating (this is the pear that's used for canned pears).
- Anjou -- Sweet and juicy, these don't change color when they ripen and are good for both cooking and eating.
- Seckel -- The smallest of the most common pears, their sweet, spicy flesh can be grainy. Good for cooking
- Bosc -- A winter pear with a yellow-brown matte skin and creamy white flesh that's ideal for cooking and baking.
What to Look for Beyond the Variety
Pears are tricky to buy because you can't really tell how it will taste just from from looking at it. A pear may appear perfect. But take a bite and it may be grainy and tasteless. That's because a pear's appearance doesn't reveal how it's been harvested, handled and stored -- another argument for buying from local farmers where the odds are greater that you'll be getting a recently picked, carefully handled piece of fruit.
Before you buy:
- Look at the pear. Avoid any with an unappealing skin or bruises.
- The green skin of Bartlett pears will yellow when they ripen, but most other types of pears do not change appearance when ripening.
- Unlike most fruit, pears are best picked unripe, and then left to ripen off the tree. So try to buy pears when they're still hard, in advance of when you'll want to eat or cook with them. Then leave the pears on a counter or in a bowl for several days to ripen. They're sensitive to carbon dioxide so don't store them in a plastic bag.
If you want to poach pears but hadn't planned ahead in time to let a pear ripen in your own kitchen, that's okay because even if a pear is hard and unripe, the hot poaching liquid will soften them.
How to Cook with Pears
The simplest way to cook a pear is to poach it in a saucepan filled with either a sugar syrup (1 cup water combined with 1 cup sugar, simmer until the sugar dissolves) or a combination of sugar syrup and wine (use white or red wine in place of half the water). You can poach a pear peeled and left whole, or else peel and cut it in half, scooping out the core with a melon baller. A medium-sized whole Bosc pear will poach in about 45 minutes. When the flesh is tender, remove it from the hot liquid and let it cool to room temperature before serving or refrigerating. If you want to serve the poaching liquid, boil it for a few minutes to reduce and slightly thicken it which will intensify its sweet, pear flavor.
A perfect dessert is a poached pear served with a piece of cheese or a spoonful of Parmesan Foam (see our recipe) or with a drizzle of caramel sauce.
Pears are also a perfect centerpiece in a simple cake or a fruit tart, such as the classic Pear Frangipane tart that combines slices of pears with almond paste. We've included a link to a Martha Stewart recipe for Baked Pears with Cream that produces the flavor of a pear tart without the trouble of making a pastry dough.
Pears also can be part of a savory dish, as in a compliment to meats, especially pork. A popular Italian combination is cubes of butternut squash tossed with cubes of pears, each cooked in a sauté pan with a little butter until tender -- cook them separately and then combine because the squash takes longer to cook. It's a wonderful side dish for a simple roasted pork loin.