Know Thy Pears! Be Smart About What You're Buying this Season
By Sarah Rosenberg
Fall is pear season. So many delicious varieties are waiting in stores to be enjoyed. Yet most people don't know what they're buying. Everyone can name specific apples, but naming specific pears is a different story. Of the 3,000 varieties, grocery stores commonly carry several. Many of these varieties are in peak season this fall, and knowing the differences will help to fully appreciate why ancient Romans and Chinese held the pear in such high esteem. Even the ancient Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria features pear recipes. The contents of this ancient culinary manifesto are posted online. Perhaps one could try the ancient recipes with a Bosc pear.
Bosc pears are good for cooking. They have dense flesh that holds up to grilling, poaching, baking, or other processes. The Bosc has a uniquely brown skin. Like most pears, ripeness should be checked by softly pushing in at the neck. If the fruit is ripe, it will be slightly pressable. If the “neck” won’t press, the pear is not yet ripe.
Concorde pears are similar to Bosc pears because they too have dense flesh, making them great candidates for cooking. Boscs and Concordes also have long, full bodies, which make excellent plated presentations when poached.
Bartlett pears come in two types: green and red. The green Bartletts will turn yellow as they ripen. Their taste is delicately sweet, and luckily, they are also good in some recipes. Consider using these guys in preserves and pies. Red Bartletts’ stunning crimson coloring makes them effective in gift baskets and holiday displays.
Anjou pears also come in green and red. But unlike Bartletts, Anjous will not change color as they ripen. Therefore the “neck” test is best for determining ripeness. These pears also are available for a large portion of the year (September through July), which makes them quite valuable when the fall harvest is over.
Comice pears have a beautiful ruddy hue and soft skin. They are popular around Christmas, perhaps because of their beautiful coloring. However, beauty comes with limitations: these pears are fragile on the outsides with soft insides, which means they cannot be used for cooking.