Five major varieties are grown in Ontario: Bartlett (the overwhelming favorite), Clapp's Favourite, Anjou, Bosc and Flemish Beauty.
Bartlett, the most common pear world-wide, is bell-shaped, sweet and soft with a light green skin that turns yellow when ripe.
Clapp's Favourite is similar in shape, with white flesh and exceptional sweetness. Its skin turns golden yellow when ripe.
Anjou is more egg-shaped, very aromatic and mildly sweet; the skin shows only traces of yellow over green when ripe.
Bosc has an elegant elongated shape with a slender neck; fine textured, russet colored and still relatively crunchy when ripe.
Flemish Beauty is roundish, with thick clear yellow skin speckled with red when ripe. The creamy colored flesh becomes meltingly tender when ripe.
One medium pear (160 g) has about 100 calories, is a good source of fiber and a source of Vitamin C, potassium and folacin.
Originating in eastern Asia or China, the pear is related to the rose. It's thousands of years old and has produced literally thousands of varieties of itself.
One of the first fruits to be brought to North America from Europe, pear trees were growing 350 years ago in the Massachusetts Bay colony.
Buying and storing
Unlike most other fruits, pears don't ripen well on the tree (these can be soft and mushy at the centre). Pears are harvested when mature and allowed to finish ripening under controlled conditions. However, for Pick Your Own, varieties on dwarfing rootstock are popular and can be picked firm-ripe for final ripening at home.
A ripe pear is relatively firm but gives a little when pressed gently. Coloring should be appropriate to its variety (see varieties above). Good quality pears are smooth-skinned, unshrivelled and free of surface markings.
Ripe pears can spoil easily and their flavor is best when cool. So it's wise to refrigerate them and use within a couple of days of purchase.
Handle pears with care to avoid bruising. Simply rinse under cool running water prior to use. Do not peel or core until ready to use.
Pears are ideal as a fresh impromptu snack or a natural dessert. They can also be used for pies and tarts, for baked cakes, crisps and crumbles, dumplings, sherbet, preserves, and even pastas and main-course salads.
Bartletts are good both fresh and for desserts, and they preserve well. Clapps are also well-suited to eating raw and to cooking and poaching.
Anjou is a succulent fresh dessert pear which also cooks and bakes well. Bosc is also great fresh and works well in gently cooked dishes. The Flemish Beauty is good as a raw dessert pear and for baking.
For picnics, Bosc and Flemish Beauty are well suited to packing in a hamper because their skins are relatively durable.