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Argentina Bartlett Pears

Cultivated for nearly four thousand years, pears have been known to man since ancient times. They originated in Asia and spread throughout Europe during the Roman Empire. Until the sixteenth century pears were tough and always eaten cooked, but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, gardeners for European noblemen began to crossbreed varieties, competing with each other to get a pear with a soft, buttery flesh. Most of the pears we know today are derived from those cultivars.

Pears are grown throughout the United States and Europe and are now being introduced as commercial crops in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. In the United States, Oregon, Washington, and California produce particularly excellent pears.

This is one fruit you do not want tree-ripened. Pears have a characteristically gritty texture caused by cells in the flesh called stone cells. Although more and more of these have been bred out, all varieties still contain them. Picking pears before the fruit has matured and holding them under controlled conditions prevents the formation of too many stone cells.

Pears are delicate even when they're hard and green, so they're always picked by hand. Most markets don't sell really ripe pears because they bruise so easily, but it's very easy to ripen them at home.

Varieties

Because they crossbred so easily, there are somewhere between four thousand and five thousand cultivated varieties. Eight of those are commonly available to shoppers here.

Bartlett and Red Bartlett A bell-shaped pear known as Williams in Europe, the Bartlett is probably the most familiar pear to Americans. It has long been prized for canning. Regular Bartletts turn from green to yellow, with a pink blush. The Red Bartlett is a hardier variety that has a bright crimson skin. An unripe Red Bartlett is actually a darker red than a ripe one: as it ripens, it turns from a darker to a lighter, brighter red. The flesh of both is white. I don't think you can taste mush difference.

Selecting

Green pears should be free from blemishes. Ripe pears - especially tender varieties like the Comice - are going to show a few scars. Avoid bruised or too-soft fruit, but don't be afraid to bring home pears that are still green. That's the way you're going to find most of them.

Ripening and Storing

Place unripe pears in a bowl or paper bag, leave them at room temperature, and they'll ripen in a few days to a week, depending on how green they are when you buy them.

Most pears show a subtle change in color as they ripen, and some develop a sweet fragrance. You can test a pear for ripeness by applying gentle pressure to the stem end with your thumb - it should yield a bit. You can hold off the ripening process by refrigerating them, and they'll hold for a long time - as long as three to four weeks. A few days before you want to eat them, bring them out to ripen. You can refrigerate a ripe pear too, but at that point it's only going to last a couple days.

Preparing

There are lots of ways to eat pears. They're good with prosciutto. You can use them in any recipe that calls for apples. Use several different varieties, all on the green side, to make a terrific pie. My aunt used to make pear pies just like apple pies, mixing in one or two quinces. You can poach pears and serve them with strawberry sauce for a simple, very pretty dessert that tastes great.

During the holidays, line a basket with napkins, pile up Comices or Forelles or a mix, tuck in sprigs of holly and maybe a few ornaments, and you'll have a pretty centerpiece that's also a good way to ripen the fruit.

Recipes

Pear Praline Pie

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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