Photo: Nina Choi
CHOOSE pears with stems attached and unblemished, unbroken skin. It's OK if they're firm—you can easily ripen them at home.
HANDLE with care, as this fruit bruises easily. If pears are bagged with, say, potatoes or onions, they may get banged around and damaged. Treat them as you would a loaf of bread or carton of eggs.
STORE your pears at room temperature to ripen. You can refrigerate to hold them at a certain point of ripeness for a couple of days, but they taste best and are at their juiciest when brought back to room temperature.
CHECK for ripeness by gently pressing on the neck near the stem end, feeling for a gentle give.
Pears are a truly seasonal crop, and all the more wonderful for it. Most of the year, if you do happen upon a pear in the supermarket, it's usually an Anjou, often rock-hard, and probably not worth the bother. Then, around September, the Bartlett, Bosc, and Comice begin to pop up. By October it's a pear profusion, with lovely colors echoing fall-leaf tones: russet, crimson, gold, and chartreuse. And that flavor! That texture! A ripe pear is plump and juicy, gorgeously sweet, with a pleasing give to the bite and a faint grittiness. The taste is hauntingly subtle, yet also strong and unlike any other. Explore the varieties. Get to know the Comice, Seckel, and Starkrimson, and be inspired to include them in your cooking. These are the varieties you are most likely to see.
ANJOU Available in red and green, this is the most abundant variety and usually the one you'll find year-round. Juicy, slightly dense flesh makes this pear great for raw and cooked uses—salads, snacks, chutneys, and pies.
BARTLETT Deep, quintessential pear flavor and intense pear-floral aroma make this variety a favorite. You'll find both green and red Bartletts. They perform well in raw and cooked dishes.
BOSC Firm texture (even when ripe) and gorgeously russeted brown skin differentiate this variety. Because it holds its shape well, the Bosc is the go-to for poaching and preserve-making.
COMICE Arguably the most delicious variety for eating fresh, these are buttery-creamy, juicy, and highly sweet. Because they drip with juice, they're best to eat raw and may not cook well.
CONCORDE This pale-green pear has a firm texture and resists browning when cut, making it perfect for a fruit tray or cheese plate. It is also a good choice for pies, crisps, chutneys, and other cooked dishes.
FORELLE Stunning petite variety that boasts green skin spotted with red freckles. The fruit is slightly crisp with a tart-sweet flavor.
SECKEL The smallest commercially grown variety, Seckels are often used as garnishes. They're very sweet, though, and should be enjoyed for snacking, too.
STARKRIMSON Crimson skin contrasts milky-white flesh in this beautiful variety. Its juicy texture, floral aroma, and striking color are best enjoyed in raw applications like salads.