We’re lucky in Australia – pears are in season for most of the year, you’ve just got to be clever about which variety you choose. Right now, we’re nearing the end for William pears, which are the ones we probably know the best. Officially this variety is in season until May, but it’s been very warm and dry this year down south, so we’re seeing a stack of these at end-of-season prices in greengrocers right now.
There are other varieties, and amongst the most common are Beurré Bosc – you know the brown, French one. They’re just coming into season now and will last until late spring. Boscs are always nice and firm so are excellent for cooking but also work well in salads.
The red ones that we all like to put on cheese boards are either going to be Corellas or Anjous (the latter a little larger). Both have harvest times starting from April, through to November. Like the Beurré Bosc variety, they are firm and also suited to cooking, although perhaps not quite as sweet.
Packham pears take over when the Williams are all gone, and are in season all the way until the latter come back in January. They’re probably not quite as flavoursome as the William, but are less notorious for their fly-by-night ripeness.
How to pick a good one…
Look for fruit that is free of cuts and bruises, smooth and plump. To test for ripeness, gently press the flesh near the stem – it will give a little if it’s ready. Don’t rely on a golden colour when buying them unless you’re ready to eat it as you walk out of the shop.
How to keep them…
Pears continue to ripen after harvest. Buy them when they are just under-ripe, then let them ripen naturally at room temperature. Store them in the refrigerator as soon as you think they are ready to eat – but no longer than a day or two, because the delicate peel will split.
To preserve pears beyond this time, poaching and placing in a preserving jar is probably the easiest. Otherwise, you could try drying them, freezing them (it’s best to peel and core them and place them in a sugar syrup to do this), make a pear liqueur or wine, or maybe a pear butter (known as Birnenhonig in Switzerland) or pear jam.
How to cook them…
Pears are amazing raw, but unfortunately we often miss the window to eat them when they’re perfect. Firm varieties tend to work better with other textures and flavours, as sometime they can be a little dry, woody or phenolic. In this case you can slice them and eat them raw in salads or on cheese boards. If you want to cook them, poach firm or under-ripe ones in spiced juice, or bake those that already have plenty of juice of their own. Don’t boil pears like you would an apple – the flavour is too volatile, and the acid too fragile. If fruit is still holding its shape nicely, you can also try grilling or barbecuing slices of pear – the sweetness in the flesh caramelises nicely.
Flavours they go with…
Pear has a strong flavour, but this is dispersed across a large amount of flesh. Don’t overwhelm it with sweet meaty flavours or gelatinous textures, but instead work with smoky, nutty or salty combinations. As mentioned before, pears don’t have a large amount of bite when ripe, so feel free to combat the sweetness with balancing acid. Combinations that work well:
- prosciutto, rocket, salted butter and bread
- Stilton, walnuts and balsamic glaze
- Red wine, cinnamon, sugar and cream
- Golden syrup, brioche and lemon rind
My favourite way to eat pears is poached in red wine. It’s easy, impressive and pretty crowd-pleasing. I’m not a fan of Belle Helene, which is a classic, but I think, an unbalanced dish – I find the textures of poached pear and dark chocolate almost combative, and also believe both flavours lose their best characteristics in the union. But each to their own – many people love it, so here’s Delia’s recipe linked.
Some other favourites:
or even better, make a golden syrup pudding, and put whole poached pears in the middle of it.