Pears Everything you do need to know about Pears
History of pears
Worldwide there are over 3000 varieties of pears but only a few are cultivated in commercial quantities. "In the United States there are only 10 heirloom varieties which are widely available: Green Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Bosc, Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Comice, Forelle, Seckel, Concorde, and Starkrimson. Pears are native to a cool temperate environment and most of the US is suitable for growing in your own private orchard. USDA zones 4 through 8 are the advised areas but there are varieties that grow well in zone 9 and zone 3. Pears do need a bit of winter chilling and as such they may not grow well in zone 10. Nowadays pears are grown on every continent except Antarctica . China leads the world in production with close to 13 million tons produced in 2008, Italy was a distant second with 840 thousand tons and the United States was just behind with 800 thousand tons.
Early colonists brought the first pear trees to America's settlements in the North East, from there pears followed pioneers as they settled the North West. The primary pear industry today is in the Northwest where they produce the same varieties as those first cultivated in France and Belgium.
Like apples pears are a member of the rose family. Pears have been used as food since prehistoric times with archaeological evidence from dwellings around Swiss lakes showing people were eating pears long before the written word was developed. In ancient Rome, Pliny noted that they had 3 dozen varieties of pear. Pliny recommended cooking pears with honey and apparently the Romans didn’t eat pears raw..The Chinese were growing pears for at least the last 3000 years.
For all of the dieters, pears are a good food in the Zone diet, coming in with a moderate glycemic index, wash and eat the skin to get all on the nutrition in the entire pear.
Pears are always picked under-ripe; pears are ripe when they yield to gentle pressure at the stem end. Pears will ripen and sweeten a bit when stored in a paper bag at room temperature where the ethylene gas can do its trick. Once they are ripe refrigerate them if you will not use them the same day. Do not use color as a gauge for determining ripeness or you may wait forever, only the forelle and the Starkrimson are reliable at changing color as they ripen but color will not tell you when to eat your pear
d'Anjou pears: (The d' is silent)
More d'anjou pears are grown in the US than any other variety and they are available almost all year long through cold storage. The season for picking starts in September. Like all commercially grown pears they are picked under-ripe.. Ripe d'anjous should be juicy and a little less sweet than the Bartlett with a firm flesh that holds up well to cooking. The shape is said to be egg like with a large spherical bottom tapering lightly to the neck, they don’t have the traditional pear shape of the Bartlett.
Green: are a bright green perhaps with a blush of red and do not change color when ripening. Red are a deep red maroon color and the color doesn’t change with ripening
Green Bartlett pears ripen to yellow; this is America’s favorite pear with a juicy sweetness that makes it an ideal dessert pear. This pear has the traditional pear shape and is strongly aromatic. The Bartlett is also know as the canning pear because the flesh will hold up to cooking in chutneys, canning and even pear pie.
Red Bartlett pears are identical to green bartletts pear but with a red skin
There is some disagreement about the origin of the Bosc pear with some saying it is French and others claiming it as from Belgium. Boscs have a russet brown skin and are firmer than the other pears thus they are good for cooking as well as eating out of hand and they don’t need to be peeled to be eaten out of hand. The skin of the Bosc has a bit of green underneath the russet brown and that green will gradually turn yellow as it ripens but color is not a reliable way to check ripeness. The flavor of a Bosc is a little different from the other pears, said to be tender, crunchy and juicy with a spiced honey sweetness. There are those that will prefer Bosc to any other pear. Bosc pears turn sweet sooner in the ripening process so they are excellent as a dessert pear and can be crisp rather than soft for eating out of hand.. The season for harvest runs from September through April.
Are the sweetest and juiciest of all the pears, green with a red blush the green may start to turn yellow when ripe but the thumb test is always the preferred method. Comice come in many sizes and the largest most perfect pears are the ones that show up most often in gift boxes especially around Christmas. Comice pears have their own distinct shape with a spherical bottom and a short neck. Although most comice pears will have green skin there are some recent varieties have been developed which are almost entirely red. These pears have a rather delicate skin that is easily bruised but an external bruise does not always mean the flesh is bruised, cut it before you throw it out! The extra juiciness makes for an excellent dessert pear that goes well with cheese, try them with Brie or Bel Paese or any cheese you like. Comise are too soft for cooking.
Forelles are one of the smallest pears, perfect for snacking. Forelles are not well known out of their home market in the North West. They have a traditional bell or pear shape with a green skin freckled with red., the green skin will turn yellow with ripening and this is about the only pear where you can rely on color to indicate ripeness. The freckles are called lenticles. Forelles are good for cooking but their small size
Makes them difficult to work with and most people choose another variety to cook.
Are small tangy and crisp green skin speckled with red and the green starts to turn yellow when they ripen. Forelles are best when they are still a bit firm and turn pretty mushy when fully ripe. The flavor is sweet to sweet tart with a hint of spiciness.
Are the smallest commercially grown pears, with a green skin that may blush red or even be entirely red. Seckels are exceptionally sweet. So sweet in fact, that they are sometimes called "sugar pears”. Seckels may be the only truly American pear as they are thought to have first been a wild seedling found near Philadelphia, however there are those that will dispute this as a fact. Their tiny size gives seckels a unique place in culinary uses. Seckels are small enough to preserve whole to use half a whole pear as a garnish. They are firm enough to withstand cooking and delicious enough to eat out of hand. The season runs from September through February and they should be available across the country during those months. Seckels have a sweet spicy flavor and some people will find the fruit too crisp for eating out of hand.
Are a hybrid that combines the best features of the Conference and Comice pears from which it is derived. It is ideal for any cooking as well as for eating out of hand. Concordes are firm with a honeyed sweetness and lots of juice. When cut or sliced, Concordes turn brown more slowly than other pears, making this an easier pear for the chef to work with. A concorde can be identified by its long neck that tapers to a pointy top. It has a spherical bottom, and its yellow green skin often has a golden russeting on it. The Concorde has a dense flesh that is sweet and juicy even when it is still firm. Like the Bosc it doesn’t have to soften to be sweet but it may be ready to eat as soon as you bring it home. Concordes are increasing in popularity and usually sell out quickly each year so buy them when you see them. The season runs from September until February.
Starkrimson pears are named after their crimson red color. The Starkrimson has
a mild, sweet flavor with a slight aroma of flowers. It is very juicy when ripe
and has a pleasant, smooth texture unlike some pears which have a granular
texture. Starkrimsons are perfect for eating out of hand, in salads and any
fresh use that shows off the brilliance of its skin. Starkrimson is a summer
pear so it is usually one of the first pears to arrive on the supermarket
shelves in August, the season ends in January. The Starkrimson is another pear whose
skin changes color as it ripens. Its color turns from deep crimson to bright
crimson red, and its skin also becomes more thin and delicate. The flavor,
juiciness and aroma all develop as this pear ripens so it is not a great choice
to eat right away, be patient and wait for it to ripen. The Starkrimson is
often chosen by food designers for the brilliant color it can bring to a photo.
Starkrimson was discovered in Missouri in the early 1950s as a “Sport” (a spontaneous mutation) that was growing on a tree of “Clapp’s Favorite” (Not a commercial pear) It was then patented by the Starke Brothers Nursery and is now being grown in volume in the North West
Pear Custard Pie Recipe w Pate Brisee Crust
This recipe will certainly work with a store bought shell but Pate Brisee just puts it over the top
Rich Pie crust Pate Brisee: (This recipe will yield 2 single or one double 9” crust)
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (Pastry or Cake flour will work even better!)
- 1 cup ice cold butter
- 1/3 cup ice cold water
- ½ teaspoon salt
1. For the flakiest crust everything must be icy cold, put the mixing bowl, beater and flour in the fridge for at least a half hour before you begin.
2. Coarsely grate the butter with a box grater or the grated attachment on your food processor.
3. Put the cold bowl of flour on the mixer and stir in the salt if you haven’t already added it, mix well.
4. Add the grated butter all at one time, mix on a low speed until the mixture resembles a crumb topping or coarse meal.
5. DO NOT OVER MIX! The tiny pieces of butter melt during cooking and make the crust flaky, if you mix the dough too long it will be mealy rather than flaky
6. Add the water in a thin stream while mixing, use only enough water to get the flour to form into dough, it may look a little lumpy.
7. Put the dough on a lightly floured table and divide into two evenly sized pieces
8. Roll the dough into balls, and then flatten them into discs.
9. Wrap the dough balls with plastic wrap and let them rest in the refrigerator for an hour or more. This will relax the gluten strands and make a more tender crust.
10. Roll out and transfer to a pie tin, if the crust breaks a bit repair it by smoothing edges together with fingers dipped in water
11. Line inside the crust with aluminum foil and par-bake for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees. This step is to prevent the crust from getting soggy
- 4 1/2 cups thinly sliced peeled seeded ripe pears
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon ground Vietnamese cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup whipping cream, divided
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Arrange the pears in pastry shell, overlapping and working around in a circle.
- Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in the mixing bowl.
- Add the eggs, 1/4 cup cream, butter, lemon peel and vanilla. Mix very well.
- Pour the egg mixture over pears, lift and wiggle the pears so the custard is distributed.
- Place the filled crust on a baking sheet to catch any spills. Cover edges loosely with foil.
- Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, at 375 degrees until the filling is just set.
- A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean
- Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.
- Cover and refrigerate until serving.
- Whip the remaining cream till stiff with extra sugar and vanilla. Serve with pie.
More by this Author
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable in America. Do you know which ones to buy? Or to grow? An encyclopedia of tomatoes.
What does the rest of the world eat? Use this guide to identify and try some new fruit flavors
What the heck is the Cry of Dolores? US schools teach little about the history and culture of our closest neighbor. Happy Independence Day Mexico!