Dear Lynne,

When is the right time to buy pears for different uses, like for poaching, eating or roasting? And which ones have real flavor?

-Lucas from Des Moines

Dear Lucas,

Simply pressing the right spot reveals all. Since pears ripen from the inside out -- and they can do this after picking -- the way to tell ripeness is by gently pressing the top of the pear right next to the stem. A slight "give" means the pear is partially ripe. This is the pear for roasting, baking and poaching.

When that same spot yields to pressure but doesn't feel mushy, the pear is ripe and ready for eating out of hand and to be pureed into dishes.

If a pear smells aromatic, sweet and appealing, that is how it will taste. With the heirloom trend, a lot of new (at least to us) pears are showing up in markets, but what you will always find is the standard quartet. (Within each of these categories there are numerous types with often dramatic flavor differences -- try them as you find them.) Generally it is worth seeking out organic pears for superior flavor.

The Pear Quartet

  • Bosc is the brown-skinned pear with drier flesh that can be intensely sweet with almond-tinged flavors. Bosc holds its shape in cooking and is especially fine roasted.
  • Bartlett can be red or green to gold with moist, sweet-tart flesh reminiscent of citrus, musk and spice. It is excellent for eating fresh, poaching and roasting.
  • Anjou is green to gold and is one of the creamy to melting pears. At its best Anjou sings with honey, caramel and lime. It is excellent eaten out of hand, pureed into dishes and sweets, and poached when underripe.
  • Comice shows up green to yellow and even red. This is another creamy pear with rich, deep qualities that tastes of honeyed spice played against acidity that reminds me of a lovely dessert wine. It is a personal favorite with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or lightly poached with bay leaves and sweet wine.

A simple way to show off a brilliant pear find is in Granita of Fresh Pear with Candied Pineapple. Lush Comice are my first choice for the granita, followed by Anjou and Bartlett.

-Lynne

Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.