Friday, November 7, 2014

Pears 101

Pears are part of the Rose family (Rosaceae) that include herbs, shrubs and trees. They are from a medium-sized family of flowering plants with edible fruits (also a Pome) which also include apples, quince, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches and almonds to name a few. Pears are native to the coastal and mild regions of Western Europe, North Africa and across Asia. There is evidence they were used for food in pre-historic times. The Romans also cultivated Pears. Early recipes such as Spiced, Stewed Pear Patina or Souffle were found in the Apicius, an early recipe collection of Fine Roman cookery. The Pear tree is hardy and can survive temperatures ranging from -25F to -40F. There are over 3,000 varieties of Pears which range in color - yellow, green, brown, red or a combination these. Several varieties are naturally brown and have spots called russeting which should not be a concern when choosing Pears. For a visual guide to some popular Pear varieties click here. The largest global producers of Pears are China, Italy, the United States and Argentina. In the US the greatest concentration of Pear production is in the Northwest. For a little more history about the arrival of the Pear to the United States check out this article from the Pear Bureau Northwest. 

Did you know that Pears are one of the only fruit that is not meant to ripen on the tree and every US Pear is handpicked? Often towns with a large amount or the historical presence of Pear trees will have the word “Perry” in the town’s name. Perry is also an alcoholic beverage made of fermented Pears. For more fun facts about Pears click hereTo learn more about Pears click here.

To Store

As mentioned above, Pears do not ripen well on trees but they are harvested when they are mature. Bartlett pears change from green to yellow as they ripen but Non-Bartlett pears do not change much in color as they ripen. The best way to ripen Pears is at room temperature. To speed up the ripening process you can place Pears in a paper bag or store them with Apples or Bananas. Pears ripen from the inside out, the best way to check for ripeness is to "check the neck.” To do this, gently press near the stem with your thumb. When it gives to gentle pressure it is ripe, juicy, and ready to eat. If you wait until the pear is soft around the middle, then it will be overripe. Once ripened or to slow the ripening process, Pears can be placed in the refrigerator in a single layer. They will generally keep for 3 to 5 days. Unripe fruit can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or more but will not ripen properly in the refrigerator. To read more storage tips by varietal check out this great article from The Kitchn.

To Nourish

Pears are high in fiber, copper, Vitamin C and K. They are rich in antioxidants and provide anti-inflammatory support. Pears are known to decrease the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease as well as reducing the risk of Cancer. Pears are sometimes described as “hypoallergenic” or as a low allergy food. To learn more about the health benefits of Pears go here.

To Prepare
Pears can be prepared in a variety of ways. The obvious is to eat them fresh but Pears lend themselves to moist and dry heat methods. Pears can be preserved in jams, chutneys and they can be canned, frozen and dehydrated. For more information on preserving your Pears check out this article. Moist heat methods include poaching and stewing while dry heat includes baking, broiling, sautéing, grilling and roasting. The best Pears for cooking or heating methods include firmer varieties like the Bosc, Anjou and Concord as they hold their shape better and will not loose their flavor when mixed with other cooking ingredients. If a recipe calls for a certain variety of Pear, it is suggested that this variety be used. Some Pears do not lend themselves to heated applications. Those include Yellow Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Starkrimosn and Comice. These varieties my oversoften and loose much of their flavors when heated. Overripe pears are still delicious, just not ideal for serving whole or sliced. Use them in smoothies, sauces or as a tasty thickening agent for soups, stocks or stews.
Each variety of Pear has a different flavor profile as listed below. For more detail check out USA Pears.
  1. Anjou – refreshingly sweet and juicy with a hint of citrus
  2. Asian - crisp, aromatic, juicy, sweet with low acidity
  3. Red Anjou – aromatic, juicy, fresh and sweet
  4. Bartlett – signature pear flavor with abundant juice
  5. Red Bartlett – juicy and sweet with a floral essence
  6. Bosc – crisp and woodsy with a honey sweetness
  7. Comice – succulent, buttery, and exceptionally sweet
  8. Concorde – crunchy and earthy with a hint of vanilla
  9. Forelle – crisp, tangy, and refreshingly sweet
  10. Seckel – bite-sized, crunchy and ultra-sweet
  11. Starkrimson – aromatic, moist and sweet with a floral essence
To Try 

To Use

Whether you’re a newcomer to the do-it-yourself movement or a seasoned food crafter looking for new inspiration, Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It by food writer and expert food crafter Karen Solomon will inspire you. Organized in twelve chapters, you’ll find 75 recipes ranging from pantry staples (churning your own butter, making crackers) to gifts from the kitchen (jams, lemon curd, homemade peanut butter cups) to pickled and cured delicacies (pickles, gravlax, kimchee, jerky). Practical prep-ahead and storage instructions accompany each recipe, and color photographs bring the food to life. Hardcover, 160 pages. (Williams-Sonoma, $24.95)