The cultivated pear, a close cousin to the apple, is the result of selection from prehistoric wild varieties. Phoenicians, Jews, and Romans were the first to grow the fruit in controlled settings; today there are more than 3,000 known kinds grown around the world. Certain heirloom varieties are high on our list of favorites: There’s the Bartlett, an early ripening pear with a sturdy shelf life, delicious in salads or eaten out of hand; Anjous, both red and green, with their luscious white flesh that gets even sweeter a few weeks off the tree; the crisp Bosc, which holds up beautifully when poached in red wine or baked in a buttery pear tart; the petite Seckel, also known as the Sugar Pear, which is spicy and aromatic—a wonderful choice for a blue cheese, walnut, and frisée salad; and Comice pears, with their succulent sweetness and custardy texture, perfect for a simple dessert. In season from late summer through early spring, depending on the type and the region, pears are one of the few fruits that improve off the tree; pick them while still hard and allow them to ripen on the counter for a sweet, succulent addition to all sorts of fall dishes.
HOW TO BUY
Select unblemished fruit that is quite firm to the touch. Note that the Bartlett is the only variety that will change color when ripe, so purchase when green.
HOW TO STORE
Leave your pears on the counter for a few days to ripen at room temperature. Bartletts will turn yellow when ripe, while a slight softness on the stem end of other pears indicates readiness. At this point the pears can be refrigerated to slow the ripening process. Once ripe, use within five days.
HOW TO PREPARE
Wash pears well, taking extra care to clean the stem ends, even if you plan to peel them. Carefully cut and core them with a paring knife. The exposed flesh of pears, like that of apples, will quickly oxidize and turn brown; lemon juice can help prevent browning.