In some cultures, pears represent grace and nobility. In others, they symbolize fertility and prosperity. This hardy fruit is grown in temperate areas all over the world and has a special meaning specific to almost every place they are grown in. Even so, the total production of this fruit is a mere fraction of that of an apple. Maybe it is because the perfect pear is often hard to come by. They must be agreeably soft but still have a nice crispness, with appealing sweetness and a zing of acidity. Too often pears disappoint. Careful harvesting and production increase the chances of finding that "perfect pear," which is another reason you should buy them in season from a local farmer who you know takes great care with their produce.
The primary thing to look for when choosing pears is a good farmer. Pears are unique in that they are best when picked well before they are ripe. A good farmer will know when to pick a pear, how long to store it and when it is ready to be consumed. Most pears will be moderately hard when you buy them, but if all goes well, allowing them to ripen after purchase will result in a delicious, juicy pear.
Store Bartlett pears for three to four days and Comice and Bosc pears for five to seven days after purchasing. Store loose at room temperature. Your fruit is perfectly ripe when the flesh right below where the stem hits the fruit gives slightly under mild pressure.
If you have a perfectly ripe Comice or Bartlett pear on your hands, the indisputable best way to eat it is on its own. Bosc and Seckel pears tend to be a little crisper and grainier and are best when cooked. Here are a few ideas for ways to integrate pears into your cooking repertoire:
Baked goods: Pears pair nicely with savory baking spices such as allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. For a fun seasonal dessert, serve a warm pear ginger cobbler with crumbly oatmeal topping and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or try this dessert recipe for walnut pear coffee cake.
Chutney: Simmer pears with cranberries, ginger, allspice, brown sugar and black pepper for a savory-sweet side that pairs wonderfully with roasted chicken or turkey.
Salads: Slice thinly and serve with prosciutto on top of a bed of baby arugula and drizzle with a balsamic reduction for an impressive starter.
Poached: Poaching is a popular way to prepare pears -- and for good reason. Even an unripe, mediocre pear becomes succulent and delicious when prepared in this fashion. Try this recipe for red wine poached pears for an impressive and beautiful seasonal dessert:
This is a perfect way to use firmer types of pears, such as Bosc or Anjou. Bartlett and Comice work well too; just be sure to use them before they are totally ripe -- otherwise they will become mushy.
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