What’s in a name?
Pears are one of the oldest cultivated fruits. In fact, there is evidence dating back to 5000 B.C. when Chinese diplomat Feng Li retired his diplomatic duties to study pears as a commercial venture. Think that’s old? The pear has been around since prehistoric times, when dried slices were unearthed from a Swiss cave dwelling from the Ice Age. Pears were first mentioned in Homer’s poem “The Odyssey” in the 9th century, described as one of the “gifts of the gods” that grew in the Alcinous’, the king of the Phaeacians, gardens.
Pears go by many names. Today, the word pear, from the Anglo Saxon pere or peru hu, comes from the Latin word pera or pira. Wild pears are called lee in Chinese, while the cultivated form is known as li. Nashi is the Japanese word for pear.
Pears, as you probably guessed, come in many different shapes, sizes and colors. Because of their rich history, they have been cultivated all over the world.
What makes a pear, a pear?
Pears fall under the genus Pyrus. From there, pears are broken down into two categories: Pyrus communis for European pears, and Pyrus pyrifolia for Asian pears. Both offer wonderful flavor, texture and serve as a seasonal staple that starts fruiting in late fall all the way through winter, and even into the chilly days of early spring.
What to look for in a pear?
These include the Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Florelle and Seckel of the pear world. They can be large, small, oval, round and a multitude of colors.
Shopping for European Pears
European pears are picked when they are mature and ripen best off the tree. They go through a chilling period and ripen from the inside out. The best advice for picking these kinds of pears is to think about when you want to eat them. If you’re looking for a pear that is ready to eat and on-point ripe, press your finger on the top of the pear by the stem. If it gives a little, it is ripe. Don’t buy pears that are soft anywhere else. This is a sign that the pear is overripe and most likely mealy and mushy. If you plan on eating the pear in a few days, press the top of the pear by the stem, and if it is firm, it’ll be ready to enjoy in 2 to 5 days.
Store pears at room temperature. Depending on the variety, they should ripen in a few days. To ripen pears faster, place them in a paper bag along with a banana or apple. Both fruits produce ethylene gas, which helps to ripen the pears.
Asian pears, commonly known as apple pears, have a texture and shape that is much more similar to apples than pears. These pears, like their European counterparts, come in different sizes, shapes, colors and names such as Shinko, Shinseiki, Nijisseiki or simply Asian pear. Most Asian pears have brown to yellowish skin, and the brown ones have a rough, papery skin much like a potato.
Shopping for Asian Pears
These pears don’t go through a chilling period like European varieties and mostly ripen on the tree. When shopping for ripe Asian pears that are ready to eat, look for those with browner or yellower skin and no greening. If you plan to eat them in 3 to 5 days, a little bit of greening is fine. You want the pear to be firm, without soft spots.
Storing Asian Pears
If the pears are not quite ripe yet, store them in a single layer so they darken in color and ripen evenly. Once ripe, store them in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can also do the whole paper bag and banana/apple trick if you want to ripen the pears faster.