How to Cook Pears
on Aug 15, 2017, Updated Oct 16, 2023
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This is a super-simple gorgeous salad recipe that features fresh pears and dried apricots — perfect for a fall or holiday meal.
Pears are one of the fall fruits we most look forward to every year. Pears have been cultivated for thousands of years and are grown and loved in countries all over the globe. Eat them like an apple, sure, or slice them up…but there are lots of other things you can do with pears, and we’d all be wise to take advantage of the pear-nanza that is autumn.
Learn below about the different types of pears, how to choose the best pears for cooking and eating, tricks for how to ripen pears, and how to prevent pears from turning brown. Plus, while I have you, I have some delicious pear recipes to suggest, from Pear Tart Tatin to a colorful Pear Salsa, and I’ve included a recipe for a Mixed Greens Salad with Pears and Balsamic Dressing at the end. This is the salad to add to any holiday meal or fall entertaining moment.
Table of Contents
- What Are the Different Types of Pears?
- What Do Pears Look Like?
- What Do Pears Taste Like?
- What Are the Best Pears for Cooking and Eating?
- How to Cook With Pears
- How to Store and Ripen Pears
- How to Prevent Pears From Turning Brown
- 5 Pear Recipes
- Mixed Greens Salad with Pears and Balsamic Dressing
- Mixed Greens Salad with Pears and Balsamic Dressing Recipe
What Are the Different Types of Pears?
Pears are divided into two major categories: European and Asian. However, European pears are what we typically see and think of when we think of the pear-shaped fruit, while Asian pears are less sweet, crunchier, and usually more apple-shaped.
Like apples, pears are available in a wonderfully wide array of varieties (up to 3,000 have been recorded!). There are Anjou (the most readily available type of pear in the U.S.), Bosc, Comice, Barlett, Concord, Seckel, Ferrel…the list goes on, and each one has a different flavor and texture.
What Do Pears Look Like?
Pears come in a range of shapes, sizes, and colors. They’re typically not quite as round as apples, but they do have a similar size and weight. They can be green, like the Green Anjou or Concorde varieties; red, like the Red Anjou or Red Bartlett; brown, like the Bosc; or a mix of those colors. Ideal pears have smooth, unblemished skin.
What Do Pears Taste Like?
The flavor of pears varies significantly from variety to variety. Some get quite sweet when ripe, like Concorde, while others, like Forelle, stay a bit more neutral in flavor.
What Are the Best Pears for Cooking and Eating?
A few varieties are only good to eat when cooked, but most of the varieties commonly available are also great for eating out of hand and using in salads or other uncooked dishes, like salsa. Pears that are very ripe will get quite soft when cooked, so you want to choose them before they get too ripe when baking or cooking them.
Great varieties for cooking are Bosc and Bartlett. Comice and Anjou are also good, though they will soften and fall apart a bit.
How to Cook With Pears
Pears can be peeled or cut up with the peel left on, but make sure to wash them well just before using. Some peels are smoother, and some are rougher; decide whether the texture of the peel will detract from the dish you are making.
Pears can be poached, sautéed, and baked in crisps, cobblers, crisps, cobblers, pies, tarts, or wrapped in pastry. They can also cooked and pureed and used in both sweet and savory dishes, to sweeten up a parsnip or potato puree, for instance, or in a soup.
How to Store and Ripen Pears
Interestingly, pears do not fully ripen on the tree, unlike most other fruits. They are picked when mature but need to sit on the counter for several days to get to peak ripeness.
Allow pears to ripen on the counter, which will take anywhere from 3 to 6 days. Barletts will turn from green to yellow as they ripen, though most other pears will not change color. Once they are ripe, you will want to use them within a few days, or they will start to get too soft — if you need to put them in the fridge at this point to prevent them from getting mushy, you can.
When a pear is ripe, it will hold well for a few days in the fridge. If you have unripe pears and you aren’t yet ready for them to ripen, you can put them in the fridge and take them out a few days before you are ready to use them.
How to Know When Pears Are Ripe
Other than Barletts, which just get a bit brighter in color, the best way to see if a pear is ripe is to gently press a finger against the neck of the pear. When it yields to the touch, it’s ready to go. USA Pears even has a little saying: “Check the Neck.”
How to Prevent Pears From Turning Brown
When cut, pears turn brown or oxidize fairly quickly. If you are using them in a baked good, cut them right before adding them to the recipe.
If you are adding sliced pears to a cheese platter, for instance, and you know they will need to sit out for a bit, you can brush the cut surfaces of the pear with a bit of water mixed with lemon juice to prevent browning. This will add a little tartness, however.
Some pears (like Comice and Bartlett) get soft when they ripen, while others (like Concord and Bosc) remain firm. If a pear variety is meant to be eaten soft, it will not have much flavor when it is unripe. See here to find out if the variety of pear you have is meant to be hard or soft.
While different types of pears have different seasonality, late summer through fall is the peak time for pears.
Pears have a nice fiber content and a decent amount of vitamin C built-in. There are about 100 calories in a medium pear.
5 Pear Recipes
Mixed Greens Salad with Pears and Balsamic Dressing
You can use whatever lettuce you like in this salad — the attention grabbers are the fresh pear and the dried apricots, and their sweetness plays very nicely with lettuces that are bitter, like frisée or escarole, but also work with milder lettuces like good old green lettuce. Fennel adds a nice refreshing anise-ey note. All I can say about fennel (other than I love it), is that when raw it’s at its very best when sliced as paper-thin as you can manage. Use a mandoline if you have one!
- Extra-virgin olive oil – An essential in most dressings.
- Balsamic vinegar – Sweet and tart.
- Orange juice – Fresh juice will take you far! Squeeze your own oranges.
- Lemon juice – The same goes for lemons.
- Dijon mustard – Mustard makes the dressing more peppery and rounds out the flavors.
- Green lettuce or escarole – If you use escarole, amke sure to use the paler, milder inner leaves.
- Frisée lettuce – Look for frissee that is perky, not droopy or wilted.
- Fennel – Quartered, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise.
- Pear – Quartered, cored, and thinly sliced. To counteract the bitter greens, I like to use a sweeter pear variety for this salad, like a Comice or Concorde pear.
- Dried apricots – Dice them to add another sweet kick to this salad.
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Mixed Greens Salad with Pears and Balsamic Dressing
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- 1 small head green lettuce (or escarole)
- 1 large or 2 small heads frisée lettuce
- 1 head fennel (quartered, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise)
- 1 pear (quartered, cored, and thinly sliced)
- ½ cup diced dried apricots
- In a large bowl combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, mustard, salt, and pepper.
- Slice or tear the green lettuce and frisée into bite sized pieces. Place them in the bowl with the fennel. Toss to combine. Add the pears and apricots and toss again.