Bartletts are easy – ripe when they turn sunny yellow. But what about a mottled brown bosc, available now from Ontario growers, or a smooth green anjou?
Leave it to USA Pears to come up with the simplest ripeness test of all.
Check the neck!
Here’s how it works. Pick up a pear and press down gently on the neck, next to the stem. If it’s soft, it’s ripe and ready to eat. If you’re not ready to enjoy it now, put it in the fridge for a few days.
Pears are picked hard because they don’t ripen well on the tree, says communications director Cristie Mather. In fact, they ripen from the inside out. Growers rely on instruments that measure sugar and pressure to know precisely when their pears are ready to harvest.
Since today’s consumers want to buy fruit that’s ready now, U.S. pear producers, like avocado and peach people before them, are starting to “condition” their fruit, nudging them along naturally so we can all experience pears at their luscious peak sooner.
The next time you peruse pears at the supermarket, look for the burgundy-red starkrimson from Oregon or Washington. This juicy red pear with the creamy texture tastes and smells like a bouquet of flowers. It’s gorgeous in a salad.
If you can’t find the name starkrimson, look for “red pear” on the sticker.
Silky sweet comice and elegant concorde pears are also being planted more widely in the Pacific Northwest.
Embrace unripe fruit
While most pears should be ripe and sweet for eating out of hand, unripe pears make amazing jam, says master preserver Brook Hurst Stephens, whose Learn to Preserve blog has inspired many a jar.
In fact she recommends adding 25% unripe fruit, from apricots to pears, to whatever jam you’re making.
Here’s another jam-making tip from the pro. Toss fruit with the sugar and let it sit overnight, or for at least an hour. This dissolves some of the sugar and gives you a beautiful syrup.
It also toughens the cell structure of the fruit so chunks keep their shape. If you don’t want chunky jam, get out the potato masher.
The celebrity blogger, who guided us through a preserving workshop in Seattle, advises newbies to start small.
“People buy a large amount of fruit on sale and it becomes a burden,” she says. “It’s better to start with a pound or two of fruit. It will probably turn out great, and the next time you’ll buy three pounds.”
When it comes to using homemade preserves, she suggests thinking outside the box.
“If you just use jam for toast you’ll never finish a jar,” she says. “Think yogurt, smoothies and salad dressing, or serve it with meat.”
For a taste of Brook’s pear recipes, visit usapears.com or learntopreserve.com