Sunday, March 11, 2012

Apple #574: Kinds of Pears

When I went to the grocery store the other day, they had a lot of pears. Different kinds of them. I've eaten all three kinds before but I couldn't say which one I liked best. So I thought I'd try all three and compare. And I also decided to find out exactly what is the difference between the varieties.



3 pears. The brown papery-looking one is a Bosc pear, the red one is a Red Anjou, and the green speckled one is a Bartlett.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)



They weren't quite ripe when I bought them, and I've had only one of them so far, the Bartlett. It's been a while since I've eaten a pear, and it was a very pleasant experience. The pear was really juicy, and the flesh's grainy texture makes the whole experience at once lush and delicate.

I haven't tried the other two yet, since I'm still waiting for them to ripen. But I thought, in the meantime, I'd learn about the different varieties and then I'd know what I'm eating.


Pears in General


There are all sorts of varieties of pears -- way more than what you usually see in the grocery store.
(Photo from A World Community Cookbook)


  • There are some 3,000 varieties of pears worldwide. That boggles my mind.

  • Pears originally came from Asia. Europeans adopted them and grew their own varieties. Then the early colonists brought them to America.

  • They grew pretty well in the colonies for a while, but then blight wiped out a lot of the trees. Now most American pears are grown west of the Rockies, where diseases are less severe.

  • In fact, most USA pears grown today are from Oregon or Washington.

  • Pears are one of the few fruits that do not ripen on the tree. They only ripen after they're picked.

  • When you buy pears from the store, they will be mature but not yet soft. Take them home, leave them out on the table or counter. Refrigerating will only slow down the ripening process.

  • To determine whether a pear is ripe or not, don't squeeze the fruit. Instead, press gently on the pear at the top near the stem. If it's soft up there and "yields to pressure," it's ready to eat.

  • The only variety for which this is not true is the Bartlett. The Bartlett will show you that it's ripe. Its skin will turn from a non-ripe-looking green to a brighter green-yellow.


  • If the flesh of any pear is soft, it's over-ripe. You could eat it "out of hand" as they say but it won't be at its best. A too-soft and too-ripe pear is best for cooking or baking.

Pear Varieties

All pears taste like pears -- juicy and sweet and soft. So when I describe how they taste, I'll indicate in what way they are different than other varieties.

BARTLETT PEARS


Bartletts are yellow-green when they're ripe. The skin has little brown speckles.
(Photo from Nature Hills Nursery)


  • Bartletts have a mild flavor with some light citrus overtones.
  • Some people call these Williams pears.
  • Bartletts are probably the most common or best-known variety. They are what you'll find in cans or containers in the grocery store.
  • That's kind of ironic, considering that most foodie types say that Bartletts are their least favorite for "out of hand" (raw, pick it up & bite into it) eating.
  • This is the first one I ate. If Bartletts are the least favorite, the others must be fantastic.
  • Bartletts tend to get mushy and fall apart when they're cooked. So if you want to make some sort of pear sauce, Bartletts are your best bet. They're also good for baking, poaching, roasting, or any other sort of cooking you might want to do with pears.
  • There are also Red Bartletts, which most people list as a separate variety. People say the Red Bartlett's flavor is milder yet sweeter than the yellow-green variety. It, too, is good for canning and cooking, but it's better than the green for out-of-hand eating.
  • In season: August through February

GREEN ANJOU


Green Anjou (an-SZHU) pears are similar in color to Bartletts. But their shape is smaller and more squat.
(Photo from Cook's Thesaurus)


  • This green pear does not change color as it ripens. So the best way to determine whether it's ripe is to test the neck for softness.
  • The green Anjou's flesh is firm yet creamy in texture. Its flavor is mild, with just a hint of citrus.
  • Foodies say that if you want a raw, green pear, the Anjou is a better choice than the Bartlett. It also holds up very well when cooked.
  • They're named after the Anjou region in France, though they're thought to have originated in Belgium.
  • These are also very common in the US and are often available year-round.
  • In season: September through July

RED ANJOU


Red Anjou pears, like their green counterparts, have a similarly squat neck and compact shape. Their skin is a dark husky red.
(Photo from Cook's Thesaurus)


  • Similar in size to the green Anjou, the red has a slightly, mild spice to it and no citrus notes.
  • To me, the red Anjou seems the most autumnal of pears. It's a similar difference from the green, the same way red grapes have a slightly darker, spicy tang over green grapes.
  • I think these are also especially juicy if you catch them at their ripest.
  • In season: September through May

BOSC



Bosc pears have long, tapered necks and that tell-tale brown papery-looking skin.
(Photo from Nicole Abdou's Destination: Unknown)


  • Bosc pears look like they have something wrong with them. The skin looks like a brown paper bag. But that's how they're supposed to be. And trust me, the texture of the skin when you bite into it isn't papery at all. It's soft and yielding.
  • Their sweetness is like honey, but they also have slightly darker, almost musky notes.
  • These are a favorite for cooking and especially poaching because they retain their shape and the complexity of flavor doesn't get lost when cooked.
  • In season: September through April

CONCORDE


With their tall, skinny shape, you might think Concorde pears are green Boscs. But they're not, and they taste quite different.
(Photo from USA Pears)


  • Here's where the varieties tend to get less common in most grocery stores.
  • Concorde pears are tall and skinny with a green skin that sometimes turns golden in places.
  • The flesh has vanilla notes and its flavor tends to be rather mild.
  • Concordes don't brown as quickly when exposed to air, so they make a good choice for fruit salads, especially if the salad has to sit out for a while.
  • They also hold their shape and flavor when cooked.
  • In season: September through February

STARKRIMSON



The Starkrimson looks similar to a red Anjou, but its red is a brighter, shinier red and its shape is narrower.
(Photo from The Fruit Company)


  • The Starkrimson is also sweet, but everyone agrees that it has a floral aroma and flavor. Some say the floral taste is too much when eaten raw. Since roasting smooths out the floral-ness, most people recommend eating these only when cooked.
  • In season: August through January

FORELLE



Forelle pears are red and green and speckled like a trout
(Photo from The Fruit Company)


  • Forelle means "trout" in German, and that's a helpful way of identifying these, as the flesh is red shading to green and speckled like a trout.
  • The official word for the speckles, by the way, is lenticles.
  • Forelles are one of the few pears that change color as they ripen. The skin turns from green to a lighter yellow, and the speckles stay very visible.
  • This pear has more of a tart flavor. It's probably the closest in texture and taste to an apple.
  • Because of their small size, their best eaten raw rather than cooked. Some recommend drizzling honey on these.
  • For a European pear, these are very old, dating back to the 1600s from Germany.
  • In season: October through March

SECKEL


Seckel pears are very small. The green on their skin is almost olive-colored, and they have patches of red blush.
(Photo from the Seasonal Chef)


  • Some say Seckels have crunchy flesh, others say velvety. You'll have to try one and decide.
  • But most agree, they're ultra-sweet, with notes of sweet champagne.
  • Because they're so sweet and small, children will eat these pears when they might turn up their noses at other varieties.
  • For adults, it's recommended that these be paired with a sharp cheese to balance the sweetness and a glass of wine.
  • When roasted, they become "decadent."
  • In season: September through February

COMICE


Comice pears are round and short with a very short neck. They're usually green with a large red blush, though some are almost entirely red. They're often a favorite in Christmas gift baskets.
(Photo from Twisting Vines)


  • I've never seen a Comice pear in my grocery store, but people rave about these.
  • They say they have a mellow sweetness, with a "custardy" flesh, and then they resort to using all sorts of delicious adjectives like "luscious" and "succulent" and "buttery."
  • People say these make delicious desserts on their own, but they're exceptionally good when paired with cheese.
  • Their full name is Doyenné du Comice. This pear originates in France. So it stands to reason it would probably do especially well with French cheese.
  • In season: September through March

If I ever see a Comice pear in a store, I'm eating it.


Sources
USA Pears, Pear Varieities
Anna Stockwell, Tasting Notes: 10 Varieties of Pear, Saveur, December 10, 2010
Blogging Erika on HubPages, Best Pears - What Kind of Pear Should I Buy?
Produce Oasis, Types of Pears
Molly Watson, About.com, Local Foods, Types of Pears

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