While pears are thought to have originated thousands of years ago, they weren’t used frequently until European gardeners, including Louis XIV’s royal gardener, began introducing pears in French kitchens in the mid 17th century. Noblemen and farmers alike began cultivating new hybrids, and as it stands today, there are over 6,000 identified pear varieties.
Peaking in the fall through the end of winter, European pears continue to ripen after they have been picked. They are harvested at maturity but not at the peak of ripeness, when the fruit is at its sweetest and juiciest. Look for pears that are firm and unblemished. Allow them to ripen at room temperature, which could take anywhere from three to 10 days.
To know when a pear is at its peak, apply gentle pressure at the base of the fruit’s neck, where it should yield slightly. Some varieties, like Bosc and Bartlett, give off a hint of fragrance. Once ripe, pears can be stored in the refrigerator on an open shelf in a single layer for up to five days.
Asian pears are the exception to this ripening process as they are harvested when ripe and remain firm, giving off a strong and sweet aroma near the stem. Here are a few of the pear varieties coming into season:
Bartlett pears are the most recognizable pear variety in the U.S., and are widely available from early September throughout the winter months. Green Bartletts turn from green to bright yellow as they mature and ripen, while red Bartletts have vibrantly red skin that makes for striking presentations. With a white, smooth texture, the flesh of Bartlett varieties is juicy and sweet when ripe, making them great to eat out of hand or for canning.
Bosc pears are distinctive for their densely-flavored tender flesh, and are believed to be of French origin, where they are sometimes referenced as “Beurre Bosc” for their creamy, butter-like consistency. Bosc pears are a popular choice for cooking as they tend to stay firm and keep their shape. Baked, poached, grilled or sauteed, the versatility of the Bosc makes it a perennial favorite.
Considered by many as the most elegant and finest variety of pears, Comice pears feature succulent flesh that is juicy, full of mellow sweetness and is often described as silky and creamy in texture. Comice pears are delicious fresh and ripe, and are a popular choice for pairing with cheese for an appetizer plate. This variety peaks in the fall and winter months, from September through March.
Green d’Anjous, also referred to as Anjou, feature bright green skin with the occasional slight blush of red, while Red d’Anjous feature vibrant skin with sun-induced streaks in varying shades of red. Both varieties change only slightly in color as they mature. Available in the fall and continuing through the winter, d’Anjou pears feature a firm but juicy flesh that is best eaten out of hand or sliced into salads for a bright and crisp texture.
Asian pears have several aliases including Korean pears, nashi (Japanese for “pear”), and pear-apples due to their resemblance to the apple’s round shape. Asian pears were once reserved for royalty and ruling classes in Imperial China, and with their thirst-quenching juiciness and mellow, sweet flavor, it’s easy to see why. Available from July through mid- October, Asian pears stay very firm so avoid selecting ones with soft, wrinkled skin, a sign of being overripe.