Pears are one of the last thin-skinned varieties of fruit to hang on well into the dead of winter. Most fruit say their last hooray long before the first frost of the year. Pears, however, are at their seasonal peak starting in the fall and lasting well through the winter months. Here are some helpful tips and ideas for choosing, storing and cooking with this cold weather fruit.
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.
How to choose pears
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.
How to store pears
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.
How to use pears
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:
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.
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:
Red wine poached pears with mascarpone and mint recipe
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.
- 6 firm pears
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 whole vanilla bean split lengthwise or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 whole cinnamon sticks or 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
For the topping:
- 1/2 cup mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon mint, chopped
- Peel pears and halve lengthwise. Remove the core and stem. Stir together red wine, water, sugar, vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks in a large saucepan and over medium-high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce heat to medium-low, add in halved pears and simmer for about 15 minutes or until pears are tender when pierced with a fork (you may have to flip the pears halfway through to ensure even cooking).
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a large bowl. Raise heat to high and boil the poaching liquid for about five minutes, or until it is reduced by half and syrupy. Pour the liquid over the pears and cool to room temperature.
- Make the mascarpone topping by combining all of the topping ingredients except for the mint in a small bowl. Plate the pear halves along with a few tablespoons of the poaching liquid and top with a dollop of the mascarpone cream. Garnish with fresh mint.