In Season: Pears

Pears are especially popular right around the holidays, and you’ll often find them wrapped in gold foil, nestled in lovely gift boxes. But you don’t have to save these tasty fruits for special occasions. There are about 3,000 varieties of pears, some grown for human consumption and others as flowering trees.

Pears are generally cultivated by grafting onto pear or quince rootstock, the latter producing a smaller tree that is desirable for those whose growing area is limited. Pears can be consumed fresh, cooked, canned (preserved), dried, and as juice.

Certain pear varieties are only suitable for cooking; these are quite hard and dry and won’t soften unless they have been cooked for several hours.

When choosing pears, avoid those with obvious bruising and wrinkled or damaged skin. Pick pears with a firm feel; they will ripen at room temperature. Pears ripen after being picked, and ripeness is evident when the skin near the stem gives to light pressure. Placing them next to bananas or inside paper bags can hasten ripening, while placing pears in the refrigerator, uncovered, can slow ripening and also keep ripe fruit from becoming overripe for several days.

Always wash the pear before eating it, even if you plan to peel it. Pears can be eaten peeled or with the skin on, though if you are unable to find organic pears, you may wish to peel the pear to reduce the risk of consuming any pesticide residues. Rub the skin gently but thoroughly with your fingers or a soft-bristled brush, and make sure you pay close attention to the stem and blossom ends.

Pears are a good source of dietary fiber and a decent source of vitamin C, though they are lower in other nutrients than some other fruits. If you don’t want to finish an entire pear at once, you can prevent the other half from browning (a natural process that results from oxidation) by dipping it in a solution of one part water to one part lemon juice.

Try different varieties to see which ones you prefer. Bartlett pears, for instance, tend to be soft, juicy, and very sweet, while Bosc pears are crisp and less sweet. Pears go well with oatmeal and blueberries, and you can even use them in hummus. They also go great on salads. So the next time you’re at your local market, see what varieties they have in stock, and give them a try!