When it comes to fall fruit, crisp-tart apples usually steal the spotlight, but it's time to give the sweet, seductive pear its due.
How to Pick a Pear
Pears are one of the few fruits that are actually much better when picked before they're ripe. If you need ripe pears for a specific occasion, it's best to plan ahead several days.
- Buy firm pears at the grocery store and place them in a paper bag to ripen. Putting a banana or an apple in the bag will speed up the process.
- Pears ripen from the inside out, so as soon as the stem end has a slight give to it when gently pressed, the fruit is ripe.
Anjou pears are the most commonly found pear in the U.S., available in late October to mid-winter. Anjou pears are bell-shaped, with pale green skin that may develop a reddish blush. Anjou pears are delicious raw or cooked.
Developed in England, Bartlett pears are large bell-shaped pears, like Anjous. They're yellow-green in color and may develop a red blush as they ripen. This is the most common variety for canning, and Bartletts are also sweet and juicy fresh or cooked. Red Bartletts taste the same as their yellow-green counterparts, but have a striking red skin.
Bosc pears have a distinctive, elegant shape: a long, slender neck and yellow-brown skin. They are the best pears for poaching, as they keep their shape when cooked. Boscs are sweet and tangy, delicious raw or cooked.
Comice pears are the sweetest, most aromatic of all the commonly available varieties. Developed in France, Comice are large, round fruits. They are yellow-green or yellow with a red blush. Because of their juicy, melt-in-the-mouth texture and delicate fragrance, Comice pears are best enjoyed raw.
Forelle and Seckel
These miniature varieties are early ripeners, appearing in specialty markets and farmers' markets at the end of August. They are popular in fruit bowls and as decorations because of their size and coloration--especially the Forelle, with its distinctive freckles. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are exquisite as a garnish on wedding cakes with other late-summer and fall fruits such as lady apples, figs, and tiny clusters of grapes.
Poached pears are a classic fall and winter dessert.
- Core the pear through the bottom using a melon baller, and leave the stem intact for an impressive presentation.
- Peel them and put them in acidulated water (water with a squeeze of lemon juice) so they won't oxidize and turn brown.
- Heat water, fruit juice or wine to just below the boiling point, and add flavorings like vanilla, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, orange or lemon zest, or honey.
- When poached in red wine, Port or Madeira, pears take on a gorgeous crimson blush.
- Serve them whole or sliced with pound cake or ice cream. "Poire Hélène" or "belle Hélène" is a famous dessert named for Helen of Troy: vanilla-poached pears served on vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.