Before this season, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve bought fresh pears in the last ten years. But lately they have been entrancing me. Pears, where have you been all my life?
Pears are at their prime right now, with a season that lasts until around December. Like apples, pears are labelled with their varietal name. Unlike apples, there are much fewer varieties sold commercially – some of the main varieties are Bartlett, Bosc, Starkrimson and Forelle (pictured below), and Comice (the green one pictured above).
Depending on the pear variety, the flavor ranges from sweet to spicy and texture varies from buttery smooth to faintly gritty. Some varieties like the Comice and Starkrimson are best eaten raw, while others such as the Bartlett and Anjou are suitable for both eating raw and cooking. Bosc pears (the brown skinned variety) hold their shape well, so they’re perfect to poach for an elegant dessert.
Pears have perplexed me in the past – namely, how do you know when they’re ripe? I’m not alone in this. Someone quoted a statistic on Twitter recently that something like 84% of Americans don’t know how to tell when a pear is ripe.
Unlike many other fruits, pears ripen from the inside out. If you squeeze the pear and the outside feels soft, chances are that the pear is over-ripe.
At the grocery store earlier this fall, I asked a produce guy to coach me on determining ripeness. He said that for Bartletts, the skin color will start to look more golden and if you gently squeeze the pear and the skin feels a bit rubbery, it’s ripe. For other varieties such as Anjou and Bosc, the skin doesn’t change color when ripe. To check for ripeness, press a little on the stem end – if it feels slightly softened and the skin around the stem looks a little withered, it’s ready to eat.
This past month or so, my work and home live has been so busy that I’ve only managed to make one actual recipe with pears – a Tuscan sweet rosemary-pear pizza from Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s cookbook, The Italian Country Table.
While the fruit and herb mixture tasted unusual and fabulous – not only does the recipe call for rosemary, but also fresh basil, lemon juice, orange zest, cinnamon, and black pepper – I burnt the hell out of the crust based on the instructions to place the pizza pan on the bottom rack in a 500 degree oven. So, I wouldn’t 100% recommend the recipe.
Instead, I end up eating the pears straight up. They’re awesome paired with blue cheese and nuts.
Crostini with Camembert and glazed pears (Kate in the Kitchen)
Pear and Gruyere strata (Cooking Light)
Linguine with pears, prosciutto and blue cheese (A Good Appetite)
Crockpot pear and ginger applesauce (Cookin’ Canuck)
Pear butter (Simply Recipes)
Pears with cacao ganache and cinnamon (Rawmazing)
Vanilla poached pears (Alton Brown)
Pears poached in red wine (La Tartine Gourmande)
Apple and pear galette (Fresh Tart)
Pear, cranberry and gingersnap crumble (Smitten Kitchen)
Pear and sour cherry brown betty with brandy hard sauce (Melissa Clark for NY Times)