Frequenting our local farmers markets in the Sacramento Region is fun even in these cooler autumn days. Seeing the pear harvest is exciting and delicious! Fruit farmers are bringing out their barrels of pears…but how do you know what type you want to purchase and consume? So many decisions! Pears are cousins of apples. American varieties come from Europe, where they migrated from central Asia. Early colonists brought the first trees to America where they thrived until blights became severe. Most pears are now grown west of the Rockies where diseases are less of a problem. In The Odyssey, the Greek poet Homer calls pears a “gift of the gods.” Asian pears are the oldest known cultivated pear. Pears come in so many varieties (10 that we know of – we have listed 8!) Here are a few to look for at the local farmers markets:
Bartlett Pear – These are the traditional-looking and tasting pears with a stout pear shape and bright speckled green skin that turns yellow when ripe. There are also Red Bartletts with a dusky red blush that glows brighter when ripe. Red Bartletts have the same flavor, but are smoother in texture than the yellow pears. Smooth-skinned pears feel humid to the touch when ready. It is best not to squeeze and bruise this fruit.
Olympic Asian Pear – Sometimes called Olympia or Giant Asian Pear, these crunchy pears are big and round like a swollen apple. This variety has beige potato-textured skin with a sunset orange glow. It has the juiciest flesh with the strongest flavor. It is also high in dietary fiber.
Shinseki Asian Pear – This is another variety that is crunchy like an apple. It is also big and round but it has bright golden yellow skin when ripe. The flavor is very mellow and slightly tangy. It is best served chilled.
Anjou Pear – Small, green and teardrop-shaped, this pear is best used as a dessert pear. It turns yellow when fully ripe, but can be eaten when green and slightly starchy. It has a very refreshing, almost minty, finish.
20th Century Pear- This is a very popular variety also known by the Japanese name Nijisseiki. It is medium and round with a slightly glossy greenish yellow skin. It is very juicy and has a pleasantly sweet flavor with a slight undertone of tartness.
Bosc Pear – These are the long and tapered brown pears often seen in classic European still-life paintings. It has been called the aristocrat of pears, and has crisp and dense flesh with a sweetly spiced flavor.
Comice Pear – Comice are among the sweetest and juiciest of all varieties of pears, and are a favorite in holiday gift boxes and baskets. Comice appear in all sizes, but their shape is unique among varieties; having a rotund body with a very short, well-defined neck. They are most often green in color, and sometimes have a red blush covering small to large areas of the skin surface. However, some newer strains are almost entirely red in color. Their flesh is silky soft, and can best be described as creamy in texture, abundantly full of juice, and very sweet. For many pear lovers, Comice is the pinnacle variety of pears.
Sekkel Pear – Seckels are tiny pears, with a chubby, round body, small neck, and short stem. Their skin is usually olive green, but frequently exhibits a dark maroon blush that sometimes covers the entire surface of the pear. “Good things often come in small packages.” In the case of the diminutive Seckel, this could not be more truthful. The smallest of all commercially grown pears, Seckels are exceptionally sweet. So sweet in fact, that the bite-size morsels are sometimes called “sugar pears.”
Nutritious at its best! Pears have no cholesterol, sodium, or saturated fat. They offer a natural, quick source of energy, due largely to high amounts of two monosaccharides: fructose and glucose, plus Levulose, the sweetest of known natural sugars, found to a greater extent in fresh pears than in any other fruit. A pear is a nutrient dense food, providing more nutrients per calorie, than calories per nutrient.
Fresh medium sized pears offer approximately 4 grams of dietary fiber, much of it in the form of Pectin. 210 mg of potassium; 7 mg of Vitamin
A ripe pear is a sweet pear. A little known fact about the pear is that it is one of the few fruits that does not ripen on the tree. The pear is harvested when it is mature, but not yet ripe, and, if left at room temperature, it slowly reaches a sweet and succulent maturity as it ripens from the inside out.
As tempting as the pear might be right from the grocer’s stand, a little bit of patience and know-how will ensure the pear reaches its peak flavor.
So, how do you know when the pear has ripened to sweet and juicy perfection?
While a Bartlett’s skin color brightens as it ripens, most varieties of pears show little change in color.
The best way to judge ripeness for non-Bartlett varieties is to Check the Neck™: Apply gentle pressure to the neck of the pear with your thumb. If it yields to pressure, it’s ripe. Easy, isn’t it?
Here’s what you need to do to ripen your pears:
- Leave firm, unripe pears at room temperature so that they can ripen.
- Check the Neck for Ripeness daily, by applying gentle pressure to the neck, or stem end, of the pear with your thumb. If it yields to pressure, then it’s ripe and ready to eat!
- Once the pear is ripe, it can be refrigerated to slow the ripening process and saved for use up to five days later.