Pears are members of the Rosaceae family—related to apples and quince—and were first cultivated some 3,000 years ago. The delicate, sweet flavor of pears was valued by the ancient Greeks. Indeed, Homer is said to have made reference to the pear in his writing, calling it “the gift of the gods.” Over the centuries the fruit made its way across Europe, and was introduced to North America in the 1700s by early settlers who planted cuttings from European stock. Pears are now grown in temperate regions all over the world, and about 5,000 varieties have been developed.
Today, in the United States, the pear is almost as popular as the apple, and can be enjoyed fresh, canned, and cooked. Unlike some fruit, pears don’t ripen well on the tree; the flesh will become mealy. Growers pick pears when they are mature but still green and firm, so they ripen in the store and at home. As pears ripen, their starch converts to sugar and their flesh gets sweeter, juicier, and more succulent. Ripe pears have an almost melting texture that led Europeans to nickname some of the varieties “butter fruit.”
Pears are often intensely sweet, but they have only a few more calories than apples. Because pears are so aromatic, some people might think they provide significant amounts of nutrients. Alas, they do not. They offer 10 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C, and just 1 percent of the daily requirement for calcium, iron, and vitamin A.
Still, juicy and tender pears offer a good amount of dietary fiber, including soluble pectin, a type of soluble fiber that may help to lower cholesterol levels.
As with apples, pear seeds contain cyanogenic glucosides, which can turn into cyanide when ingested. You’ll be fine if you swallow a few, but don’t eat a handful of seeds.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Pears in the National Nutrient Database.
How to use pears
Fresh pears are best washed, then eaten raw with their skins on. If you plan to bake, can, or freeze pears, first peel the pears with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Then remove the core with an apple corer, or cut the pear in half lengthwise and scoop out the core with a teaspoon or a melon baller. Coat the peeled cut pears with lemon juice to keep them from darkening.
To can pears, peel them and cut them in half or in slices. Put them in sterile canning jars and add simple sugar syrup, along with spices such as a stick of cinnamon, cardamom pods, or anise if you like. Carefully follow instructions to can the fruit safely.
To freeze pears, peel and slice the fruit. You can pack the pear slices in sugar water, then freeze. Or you can brush the slices with lemon juice or ascorbic acid to prevent browning, then put them on a tray in the freezer. Once frozen, put them in a freezer bag, and used as needed throughout the year.
See our recipe for: Apple, Pear and Cabbage Slaw.
Pears are a sweet fruit that goes well with cheese and meats such as pork or duck. Here are nine delicious serving suggestions for pears.1. Spread a thin layer of Roquefort or Stilton on fresh pear halves.2. Add sliced pears to watercress or endive salads and top with a crumbling of
Published July 10, 2015