Despite seeing pears since late summer, I consider them a winter staple. Unlike most other fruits, pears must be harvested under ripe and kept in cold storage before ripening slowly at room temperature. This goes a long way toward protecting this otherwise easily damaged ripe fruit from the perils of travel and handling. This is good news for the consumer, but does require some determination to arrive at pear nirvana. Pears can be refrigerated for a few days, but beware, this will all too quickly diminish both texture and taste. Ideally, keep them in sight and check daily, applying gentle pressure to the stem end for that slight give indicating ripeness.
There are thousands of varieties, but much like apples, we see too few. Bartlett pears are early and don’t keep especially well, but are a good choice for both cooking and eating out of hand. The much sturdier D’Anjou is easy to cook with, but lacks that quintessential pear aroma and flavour; Bosc, firm-fleshed and golden, long-necked and slightly russeted is a better choice, in my opinion, for poaching and just cooking in general. The pretty, rosy-cheeked Seckel pear, small and spicy, is perfect for poaching and pickling whole. Sadly, not easily found, the Doyenne d Comice (meaning best of show, essentially) is true pear heaven. The Comice has silky, luscious flesh with a heady fragrance… absolutely wonderful with cheese. Unfortunately, this pear prima donna does not travel well and only a few stalwart grocers will risk bringing it in.
Be sure to read more about Parsnips and Pears plus check out Ellen’s recipe for Parsnip and Pear Soup.