For years, it seemed pears were an underappreciated fruit. Exposed to syrupy-sweet, canned pears, or mealy, under-ripe ones, many people confess to not enjoying this luscious, nutritious fruit. Often it is because they've never tasted a fresh, sweet, perfectly ripe pear.
During my recent trip to Washington State's fruit belt, it was fascinating to learn more about the pear farming industry; a very important part of the agricultural story of the northwest US. Combined, Washington and Oregon comprise the nation's largest pear producing region, home to approximately 84% of all fresh pears grown in the United States. In Canada, our dominant pear growing regions are in Ontario and British Columbia, with some additional production in Nova Scotia, however, we rely on imports in many regions to satisfy demand. As with apples, Canada represents the largest export market for US organic pears.
Thanks to modern cold storage techniques, which enable pears to hibernate before being allowed to ripen, pears are now available almost year-round. Unlike other fruit, pears are harvested when the fruit is fully mature, but not yet ripe, as pears ripen best after they are picked. Every pear is picked by hand, and placed into special orchard bins to prevent bruising.
How to tell if a pear is ripe:
While a Bartlett's skin colour brightens as it ripens, most varieties of pears show little change in colour. The best way to pick a perfect pear is to Check the Neck™: Apply gentle pressure to the neck of the pear with your thumb. If it yields to pressure, it's ripe and ready for eating.
How to ripen pears to perfection:
• Leave firm, unripe pears at room temperature so that they can ripen.
• Check the neck for ripeness daily.
• Once the pear is ripe, it can be refrigerated to slow the ripening process and saved for use up to five days later.
There are numerous varieties of pears, distinguishable by colour and shape, as well as having differences in flavour and texture. Most people recognize the "Big Three" of Bartlett, Bosc and Anjou. The selection of pears available in Canada varies throughout the winter so it's worthwhile to watch your store's produce section for new varieties and give them a try! Here are some to watch for:
Anjou - refreshingly sweet and juicy with a hint of citrus
Red Anjou - juicy with a fresh, sweet, and slightly tangy flavour
Bartlett - signature sweet pear flavour and aroma with abundant juice
Red Bartlett - juicy, aromatic, and sweet
Bosc - crisp, spicy, and woodsy with a honey sweetness
Comice - succulent, buttery, and exceptionally sweet
Concorde - crunchy and earthy with distinct vanilla flavour
Forelle - crisp, tangy, and refreshingly sweet
Seckel - bite-sized, crunchy and ultra-sweet
Starkrimson - aromatic, moist, and delicately sweet