Pears are the unheralded stars of the fall fruit bounty. Here’s how to choose and use them. – The Denver Post

It’s been a couple of weeks since I had my last farmers market peach, and the transition always feels like a bit of a bummer. But my disappointment is lessened knowing pear season is ramping up. While buying any type of pears I could get my hands on for the photo above, I sampled my first Seckel pears of the year. Bliss! Peach who?

As fantastic as pears can be, they sometimes play second fiddle to their relations, apples. Why?

“Pears are difficult,” says Emily Zaas, who runs Maryland’s Black Rock Orchard with her husband, David Hochheimer, “but they are so enjoyable because of the variety.” They’re hard to grow, which for buyers can mean less access, or access to fewer varieties. Moreover, once you buy them, it takes a little more effort to figure out when they’re ready to eat.

Don’t let uncertainty stop you from loving on this quintessential fall fruit. Here’s what you need to know:

Buying

Pears come in a variety of colors and gradients, which don’t really tell you much beyond what type they are. The colors don’t indicate what’s going on inside, other than the Bartlett, which I’ll get to below. Purchase pears that are fragrant and free of cuts or other blemishes that might cause them to rot. Russeting, or brown rough patches, is perfectly normal and fine to eat. Pear season runs from late summer into December or January, although they’re typically available year-round at supermarkets.

Photo for The Washington post by Tom McCorkle

Pears.

Ripening

In “Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book,” the author gives a sobering assessment: “A ripe pear gives very slightly round the stem, but should be in no way squashy. All this provides problems for the shopkeeper and supplier. The result is that most people have never eaten a decent pear in their lives.” Jane does not suffer fools! Even if you don’t subscribe to that brand of bluntness, it is true that getting a perfectly ripe pear requires some know-how. USA Pears, a website run by a group representing growers in the Northwest, says pears are one of the few types of fruits that don’t ripen on the tree. (Asian pears, however, do ripen on the tree.) That, in combination with the fact that riper pears are easily damaged, means many of the pears you find at the grocery store are not quite ready to be eaten. For more same- or next-day satisfaction, farmers market pears are a safer bet. They’re also where you may come across less common varieties.

But how to ensure your pear is ripe? Give it the old squeeze test, applying gentle pressure to the neck with your thumb. The pear is ready if it yields there; firm Boscs and Concordes won’t give quite as much as other types. USA Pears notes that pears ripen from the inside out, and the neck is closest to the center. If you checked the fatter part of the pear, by the time it was soft, the inside would be overripe. If you have Bartletts with green skin, they will lighten to yellow as they ripen.

Once your pears have ripened at room temperature, store them in the refrigerator. At that point, Zaas says, they can last as long as a few weeks. You can also store unripe pears in the refrigerator and then bring them back out when you’re ready to ripen them.

Prepping

There’s not a whole lot that’s complicated here. As with all fruit, wash and scrub under cold, running water and then dry. If you’re peeling, you can use a paring knife, but a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler is good for removing a thinner layer, says Rolce Payne in “Cooking With Fruit.” She suggests going down the pear from stem to blossom end. To core, a dedicated corer can do the trick; so can a melon baller. When you want to halve and stuff pears, Payne says to scoop them out with the small end of a melon baller, a small knife or a teaspoon. Pears are prone to browning once cut, but water mixed with some lemon juice can help stave off discoloration.

Varieties

Here’s a rundown on flavor and appearance of some of the most common varieties as described by USA Pears, unless otherwise noted.

Anjou: “Refreshingly sweet and juicy with a hint of citrus.” Egg-shaped and bright green, sometimes with a red blush. Other than color, red and green Anjou are basically interchangeable, although Saveur says the red are sweeter with less pronounced citrus undertones.