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Pears come in a rainbow of colors and an eclectic assortment of shapes, but a familiar sweetness links the different varieties.
Like the strawberry, the pear is a member of the rose family and is related to almond, apples and apricots. Pears range in shape from quite round to the more familiar, tear-drop-like “pear-shape” and range in color from bright yellow dark red or brown. Their flesh is usually very sweet and can be crisp, soft or grainy depending on variety and ripeness.
Oregon, Washington and California are the major U.S. pear producers, and pears were named as Oregon's state fruit in 2005. Each year, Oregon grows enough pears that, placed end-to-end, they could circle the globe twice.
VarietiesPears are easily crossbred and cultivated, and thus there are at least 3,000 varieties of pears worldwide. Only a very small number of these have been cultivated in the U.S., including the following:
• Anjou pears are juicy and sweet, making ideal dessert pears. Anjou have a light yellow-green skin and less grainy flesh than other varieties and are equally tasty in both standard and dwarf form.
• Bartlett pears grow to be either bright yellow or reddish, and they are a good choice in dishes that call for cooked pears.
• Bosc pears are usually grown in dwarf size and have a yellow-brown matte skin. They have a sophisticatedly classic aesthetic quality and a crisp flesh that makes them good both fresh and cooked.
• Comice pears ripen to a pink-brown skin color and have smooth, juicy flesh. Both lovely and delicious, they are often acclaimed as the best type of pear.
• Conference and Passe-Crassane pears have a grainy, crisp flesh that makes them best suited to cooking.
• Forelle pears are hard to get your hands on because of their limited cultivation and short growing season, but they are treasured by those who do. They have a bright red skin, yellow flesh and are small and firm enough to make a perfect fresh snack.
• Seckel pears are very small, plump and roundish with a green skin often covered in large maroon splotches. Like Forelle pears, they are tiny and sweet and thus a good snack fruit.
Almost all pear varieties are grown in both standard sizes and dwarf sizes, which are cultivated through a grafting process. Some pears are better in one form or the other, so try your favorite pears in each size when possible
Buying TipsPears are picked before they are ripe, so you can plan on letting them ripen on your kitchen counter. Because pears have a short life once ripe, choose firmer fruits if you know you’ll be keeping them for a few days. Select pears that feel solid but not excessively hard.
Bartlett pears will change color when ripening, as will some red pear varieties, and some will not change color at all, so its easier not to count on pear color to indicate quality or ripeness.
The bright, fresh looking ones are most appealing and most likely to taste good--avoid those with visible surface damage such as bruises and scars.