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07/01/2014

~How to: Choose, Store, Peel, Halve & Core Pears ~

IMG_6653July 1st.  It's a bit early for pear seaon here in Pennsylvania.  Our Bartlett trees won't bear fruit until August, but, I was given a box of beautiful Bosc pears two days ago, so there is no time like the present for me to write a post about this voluptuous looking, seductive tasting fruit.  In case you didn't know, pears and apples are botanical cousins, but, when perfectly ripe, I'll choose the succulent pear over the crisp apple every time.  I think of pears as sophisticated apples!  

Bosc-pearA bit of pear history:  The pear is one of the oldest cultivated fruits. Originally grown in the mountains between Russia and Turkey, Aryan tribes migrating to Europe planted the seeds for our present day "European pears".  The Greeks highly regarded the pear -- Homer called it "the fruit of the gods", and, records show that the Romans developed about 40 varieties throughout their empire.  In the Middle Ages, pear cultivation was limited to "gated communities" (castles & monastaries), making the pear a luxury available only to a select few, but, giving it its aristocratic image.  In the 17th century, pear growing became a hobby for the rich and famous, and, by the 18th century the French and the Belgians were developing soft, ultrajuicy, superior varieties.

Colonial settlers introduced pears to North America in the latter 1620's.  All of the European pear varieties grown today are over one hundred years old and of the thousands of varieties, none are indiginous to our continent.  Commercially grown pears in the USA today are all decendents of European pears or hybrids created by crossing European pears with Asian pears.

600px-Eight_varieties_of_pearsVia Wikipedia, pictured here are eight varieties of pears most common to us in the United States. From left to right:  Williams' Bon Chretien (aka the Bartlett), two Red Bartlett varieties, d'Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Concorde and Seckel.  There are over 5,000 varieties of pears grown throughout the world's temperate climates with the states of California, Oregon and Washington leading the the way in the USA.  I am familiar with the first five pictured above, along with the Asian pear which is not a part of today's discussion.  Honestly, to me, these five pears pretty much all taste the same, and, as long as they are perfectly ripe, can be used interchangeably.  The Bosc, with its fairly-firm-even-when-ripe texture is my favorite all-purpose eating and cook-/bake- with pear!

My favorite all-purpose eat, cook, or bake pear is the Bosc!

IMG_6637Choosing pears:  Pears range in color from celedon green, to golden yellow, to tawney red, and, they range in flavor from spicy-sweet to tart-sweet.  Some varieties are better for eating as is, while others are better for baking and cooking. All pear lovers have a personal favorite.  One can only determine a favorite by tasting a few varieties side-by-side, and, when it comes to perfectly ripe pears, there is something you should know first:  

Mother Nature protected the easily-bruised pear by making it better when picked while it is still hard, meaning:  unlike most other fruits, it improves in flavor and texture in the days following being picked.  Pears ripen from the inside out.  This is great for pear growers, because they can and should pick them while underripe and ship them as such (tree-ripened pears become soft at their core).  For us consumers, we must allow our pears time to ripen at home, and, diligently monitor the process, because a pear can go from ripe to rotten quite quickly, and personally, I have no culinary use for an overripe pear.  Whatever variety, always choose firm, smooth pears with relatively unblemished skin (no dings, dents, holes, marks, or dark bruises).

Underripe = hard, tart, starchy

Ripe = yielding, sweet, juicy & slightly-but-pleasantly gritty

Overripe = soft, tasteless, mealy

IMG_6628Storing pears & determining ripeness:  Pears ripen best if stored at a cool room temperature for 1-4 days. The ripening time is going to depend upon the variety of pear, the size of the pear, and most importantly, the stage of ripeness when you purchased it.  If you are like me, my usual test for fruit ripeness is how each piece feels in my hand, which usually equates to: softness = ripeness.  This is not the case with pears.   European pears are ready to eat when they yield to gentle pressure next to the stem.  If the body of the pear is any more than slightly yielding, it is overripe.

IMG_6668To peel, halve & core pears:  I almost never peel pears, but, for the sake of this post I will demonstrate. You will need sharp paring knife and a melon baller.  Cut a small slice off the top and bottom of both ends.  Stand the pear upright. Carefully, gently and smoothly run the knife down the sides, removing, in strips, a thin layer of skin.

Note:  Why not use a vegetable peeler?  Unless the blades are extremely sharp, it will leave a ragged looking surface on the pear (especially soft-textured pears).

IMG_6696 IMG_6747Once peeled, slice the pear in half from pole-to-pole (stem end to bottom).  If slicing an unpeeled pear, place the blade of the knife as close to the stem as you can and slice down in one smooth movement.  Use a melon baller to cleanly and accurately remove the core and seeds from the center of each half.

IMG_6719Using the knife again, remove the stem (a tough-textured stem section runs lengthwise through the entire center of the pear) by slicing a thin V-shaped strip through the entire length of the pear.

IMG_6732At this point, use the halves as they are, cut each half in half to quarter the pear, or, slice/dice the pear in any manner directed in the recipe you are using or as per your personal preference.

IMG_6726I have been photographing the same pear for about 15 minutes -- notice the discoloration?  Like apples, once cut and exposed to air, pears will discolor if not dipped in acidulated water (my ratio is:  1 cup water to 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice).  This is not a problem if you are cooking a few pears rather immediately, but, it will be if you are serving them raw with cheese and crackers, or, are preparing a large quantity.  In either of these two instances, place a bowl of acidulated water in the refrigerator and add the pears to it as you work.

IMG_6657How to:  Choose, Store, Peel Halve & Core Pears:  Recipe yields instructions to choose, store, peel, halve and core as many pears as you want!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; melon baller 

6a0120a8551282970b0147e01a0cb0970bCooks's Note:  Doesn't this look great?  It's my recipe for ~ Simply Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree ~.  You can find it by clicking into Categories 4, 8, 18 or 22.  It is NOT your grandmother's applesauce -- it is so much better!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

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