The days have shortened and the nights are crisp. Everywhere you go, pumpkin spice seems to be the trend. Autumn is my favorite season and always reminds me of childhood memories of freshly baked apple dumplings and pumpkin pie (Thanks, Mom!).
But wait, though apples and pumpkins are iconic autumn produce, and Pennsylvania growers rank as numbers 4 and 5 as top producers nationally, Pennsylvania also ranks in the top five among pear production nationally. So, let’s take a closer look at the pear.
Pears pack a nutritional punch. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one medium pear contains: 101 calories, 0 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrate, 17 grams of sugar, 6 grams fiber and 1 gram of protein. It provides 12% vitamin C, 10% vitamin K, 6% potassium, and smaller amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folate.
Pears are also a good source of phytonutrients and antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
To get the full benefits, eat the peel.
Worldwide there are over 3,000 varieties, though in the U.S. that narrows to about 11 common types. Pennsylvania growers generally harvest pears from August through September.
Here are some tasty types:
Green and Red Anjou — Though the skin is a different color, they both are similar in their mild flavor and firm texture, and both hold their shape during cooking.
Bartletts turn yellow when ripe, and Red Bartlett — the juiciest among varieties — collapse when cooked.
Bosc pears have a distinct brownish skin color, a crisp crunch and hold their shape beautifully when cooked.
Asian pears are crisp, a yellow-brown color, and the unique shape is more like an apple in shape and texture. It keeps its shape when cooked.
Comice pears are greenish-yellow with a red blush marking, described as having a less-grainy texture and as one of the sweetest varieties. It is considered one of the best hand-eating types.
Forelle pears are only slightly larger than a Seckel pear, good for hand eating
Concorde pears are distinguished by a long, tapered neck, yellow-green skin, and the flesh does not brown as quickly as other varieties when cut. It holds its shape when cooked
Seckel pears are sweet, flavorful, aromatic and spicy, and one of the smallest varieties in the marketplace.
Starkrimson pears have a mild, sweet flavor with a subtle floral aroma. It is often sold as “red pear.”
Purchasing Made Simple
Pears should be heavy for their size and will give a bit as you hold them firmly in your hand. Pears can bruise easily, so avoid pressing thumbs into the fruit. Lastly, when purchasing, smell the stem end for pear aroma to check for ripeness. Since pears bruise easily, handle with care during bagging and transporting them home.
There are several options for storing and ripening. Store pears on the countertop at 70 F to ripen them naturally; check daily for ripeness. To extend shelf life, store in the refrigerator at around 40 F, but only after ripe, to delay further ripening. On the other hand, to speed ripening, place pears in a paper bag with a banana, apple or avocado.
For information on preserving pears, check out https://extension.psu.edu/lets-preserve-pears or contact your local Extension office to get a copy.
Cooking and Eating Pears
Experiment by adding pears to smoothies and oatmeal, or grate pears and add to pancakes and waffles mixes for breakfast. At lunch, add pears to salads, sandwiches and wraps. Also, pears make a great complement to snacks of nuts and cheese. For dinner, pears complement meats such as pork or chicken in a sauce or chutney or can be cooked in a variety of ways for a side dish or dessert. Lastly, break from tradition and try using them in place of apples in many recipes.
I am thinking of adding them to my next batch of rice pudding. So, this autumn let’s make a new trending fruit and pick up pears while shopping.