A member of the rose family, pears are delicious in both sweet and savory dishes, and can be enjoyed raw, stewed, sautéed, baked, roasted, poached and grilled. Their high pectin content makes pears ideal for jams and spreads.
The Pacific Northwest produces more than 80 percent of the nation’s pears. While peak pear season spans fall and winter months, many varieties are available throughout the year. Anjou pears are the most abundant and can be green with a sweet, almost citrus flavor or red with a sweeter, slightly spicy flavor. Enjoy Anjou pears fresh, as a chutney or in pie. Available almost year-round, Bartletts deliver classic pear flavor and are great for canning or puréeing. The firm texture and bold flavor of Bosc pears make them best for poaching or baking. Luscious Comice pears are coveted for their creamy texture, succulent sweetness and exceptional juiciness. Also known as the Christmas pear, Cornices are best eaten raw, especially paired with cheese. Sweet, petite Seckels are perfect pears for snacking and make an adorable addition to lunch boxes.
Flavors that complement this versatile fruit include warm spices such as allspice, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; nuts such as pistachios, almonds and pecans; and dark chocolate. Balance the sweet flavor of pears with piquant pecorino or blue cheeses such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola.
Play up the mellow side with a sweet, creamy Mascarpone or the savory tang of goat cheese. Pears also go well with greens; try them with bitter endive.
Nutrition Quality of Pears
Often compared nutritionally to apples, pears hold their own. At just 100 calories, one medium pear delivers 5.5 grams of fiber, 10 percent of the Daily Value of vitamin C and 5 percent of the Daily Value of potassium.
The potassium helps keep blood pressure in check and pears’ high soluble fiber content may promote healthy blood cholesterol levels. One prospective Dutch study found that for every 25 grams of white-fleshed produce eaten, there was an associated 9 percent reduction in stroke risk. Quercetin, a flavonol present in the skin of pears, may help prevent certain cancers and lower the risk of heart disease; however, evidence supporting these effects in humans is weak.
Cooking with Pears
Add pears to the menu for unique seasonal dishes throughout the day. Incorporate fresh pears at breakfast with pear butter or pear spiced muffins. At lunch, build sandwiches with pear slices for crunch and sweetness. Start dinner with a roasted pear, Gorgonzola and pecan salad followed by a pork and caramelized pear main entrée and a ginger pear tart for dessert.
Save time and labor by poaching fresh whole pears in wine for a simple dessert or use a food processor to julienne pears for a crunchy slaw. Pear purée can be used to create sauces, soups, specialty beverages and flavorful quick breads. Pears are available in quantity fresh or canned. For quality and consistency, fresh pears are scored in three grades, U.S. No. 1 being most desirable. To manage food cost, pears are ordered by size. For example, a size 80 pear means that 80 pears fit into a 4/5 bushel box.
Pears don’t ripen on the tree. As ethylene producers, pears can be ripened at room temperature in a couple of days, then transferred to cool storage to maintain freshness. Conditioned pears, which have started the ripening process, are useful in foodservice operations that lack time or space to ripen the fruit. Because fresh pears tend to absorb odors, store them away from foods such as onions.
Contributing Editor Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, is a food and nutrition consultant and adjunct instructor at Georgia State University.
Pear Waldorf Salad
Recipe by Sharon Palmer
This light take on a classic Waldorf salad swaps blended cottage cheese and Greek yogurt for the usual rich mayonnaise dressing, and crisp green pears for apples. It’s perfect for any party or picnic!
4 large crisp, green pears (i.e. Bartlett), unpeeled, chopped into chunks
5 stalks of celery, trimmed, coarsely sliced
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh grated lemon rind
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch white pepper
1 tablespoon honey
- Place chopped pears, celery, raisins, walnuts and lemon rind into a large bowl and toss together.
- Place cottage cheese, yogurt, lemon juice, white pepper and honey into the container of a blender and process for about 2 minutes, until smooth and creamy.
- Pour cottage cheese dressing over pear mixture and stir to combine well. Chill until serving time. Serves 8.
- This salad is best served immediately, as the pears will start to brown after a few hours.