Selecting, Ripening & Enjoying Pears

Ninety-five percent of all pears grown in the U.S. come from Washington, Oregon and northern California, where warm, dry summer days, cool nights, and wet winters combine to produce excellent fruit.

A pear purchased at the farmer’s market or grocery store will almost always be unripe.  Because pears bruise easily, they are picked and shipped in an unripened state. But don’t dismay – they’ll actually ripen better on your counter than in the store or even on the tree, where they tend to become mushy and grainy. Just remember to select pears a couple of days before you want to cook or eat them.

Properly ripening pears at home is the most important thing you can do to improve its flavor. Choose firm, fragrant fruit without soft spots (a skin blemish, however, is only skin deep). Place the pears in a paper bag (you may want to add an apple, banana, or orange;  the release of ethylene gas speeds the ripening process). Pierce the bag in several places, fold the top over, and set aside for two to seven days. Check the pears often, as their peak lasts only a couple of days.

To check for ripeness, press down gently on the stem end. When ready, it will give slightly. Don’t wait for the pear to feel soft all over, or your pear will be mushy. Once the pear is ripe, refrigerate, unwashed, in a paper or plastic bag until ready to use, up to one week.  This may sound like a lot of trouble but the end result is well worth it. “You can eat an apricot right off the tree, or a peach, or an apple. But a pear is more complicated.  You have to be patient with it. A pear is like a lady: A handsome, foxy guy takes more care of her, but she’s worth it.”

Pears should be fully ripe for eating out of hand. For salads or cooking, though, they are best when firm-ripe.

Although pears are available at the supermarket year-round, they’ll be most delicious in season. For summer pears, such as Bartletts, harvested in July and August, the season is brief. Winter pears — which include almost every other variety — can spend anywhere from  a month to six months in cold storage after their autumn harvest and before they’ve ripened, so they are fresh until springtime, around February or March. The ripening process does not begin until the pears are brought to room temperature, and is halted when cold.