(Pyrus sp.— Family Rosaceae)
poire (French), Birne (German), pera (Italian/Spanish), pêra (Portuguese), peer (Dutch), pære (Danish/Norwegian), päron (Swedish), päärynä (Finnish), grusha (Russian), gruszka (Polish), bruska (Czech/Slovak), vadkörte (Hungarian), kruska (Serbo-Croat), para (Romanian), krousha (Bulgarian), achládi (Greek), armut (Turkish), agas (Hebrew), kummathra (Arabic), amrud (Persian), li (Chinese), yonashi (Japanese), buah pér (Indonesian)
Related to the apple, pears also have a great many varieties, but only a dozen or so available commercially.
Most pears have the same familiar shape; but some are round like apples, or have elongated necks like gourds.
Pears are generally less colorful than apples, ranging from yellow to green to red.
Wild pears have grown since prehistoric times in Asia and Europe. Asian pears are a different species and discussed separately.
The pear was considered a better fruit than the apple during ancient and classical times, especially by the Chinese. During the Sung dynasty (700 years ago), only one kind of apple was known, but many types of pears. The ancient Greeks also had a high opinion of the pear. Pliny the Elder described forty-one varieties of pears known to the Romans, but his list of apples was much shorter.
First cultivated by the Phoenicians and the Romans, pears became a royal delicacy for ancient Persian kings. By medieval times in Italy, there were more than 200 varieties being cultivated. By the 17th century, and inspired by Louis XIV’s passion for fruit and vegetables, the French were growing over 300 different varieties.
The introduction of espaliered trees, whose fruits ripen more evenly and were not so blown about in orchards, helped promote the growing of fine pears in the Paris region. Pear breeders were particularly active in the 16th century.
At its end, two manuscripts detailed the fruits that were served to the vegetarian Grand Duke Cosimo III of Florence, and listed 209 and 232 different varieties, respectively, which appeared in that region alone.
In 1640, Britain had a mere sixty-four varieties; but, by 1842, this number had increased to over 700. The two most notable growers of the 18th century were both Belgian. Nicholas Hardenpont of Mons (Bergen) bred the first of the juicy, soft pears called Beurre (butter).
These were later developed by Dr. van Mons and remain among the best of the pears.
There are no native American varieties. The fruit was introduced to that part of the world in 1629 when the Massachusetts Company ordered pear seeds from England. Because the first American pears were raised from seed, like the apple, they will not breed true to variety. As a result, American pears have become more diverse than their European ancestors.
In New England during the 19th century, such an enthusiasm developed for the pear that it was described as “pearmania”. It is said that there are now more than 5,000 named varieties worldwide; but, with so many cultivars and hybrids, any general statement made about them can soon be invalidated.
Although available almost all year, pears are seasonal, so specific varieties are not always attainable. Pears are generally dual-purpose, that is, they can be eaten either raw or cooked.
Pears contain a small amount of Vitamin A and C, as well as some potassium and riboflavin. The vitamin C is generally concentrated in the skin. They are also a good source of food fiber, which includes pectin, gums, cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignins. These are found in the sclerenchyma cells that make up the gritty particles in the pear’s flesh.
Most fruits and vegetables become softer after they are picked because their pectic enzymes begin to dissolve the pectin in their cell walls. With pears, this reaction takes place if the fruit is left on the tree to ripen, which explains why tree-ripened pears often taste mushy.
The best tasting pears are ones that are picked immature and allowed to ripen in storage. During this time, starches turn to sugar, with only a trace amount of starch remaining in the ripened fruit.
Like the apple seeds, pear seeds contain amygdalin, a cyanide/sugar compound that breaks down into hydrogen cyanide in the stomach. While not lethal, it is still not advised to eat too many.
Pears should not be stored in sealed plastic bags either in or out of the fridge. Without oxygen circulating freely around the pear, the fruit will begin to “breathe” internally, creating compounds that turn the core brown and make brownish spots under the skin. This is the reason for purchased pears to look fine on the outside but are rotten on the inside. They have been improperly stored somewhere along the line.
are sometimes treated with such sulfur compounds as sulfur dioxide to retain colour. This is to inactivate the enzyme ‘polyphenoloxidase’, which darkens the fruit during the drying process. This sulfur compound sometimes causes allergic reactions in people, which can be severe enough to cause anaphylactic shock. Even though the appearance may not be as pleasing, it is always healthier to choose organically grown unadulterated dried fruits.
Some of the more notable pear varieties include the following:
is a 19th century variety that is long and thin. It is a greenish-brown pear that often has a red blush. A mid-autumn pear that is used mainly for desserts, it has a good flavour and texture.
is a large, broad, lopsided, greenish-yellow pear, which has brown speckles or russeting. The flesh is spicy and juicy. It originated in France or Belgium in the 19th century and now exists in several forms, including the Red Anjou. A dual-purpose pear, it has juicy, sweet flesh. Anjou (full name is Beurre d’Anjou) is the main winter pear of North America.
is the name used in North American and Australia, but in England it is known as Williams Bon Chrétien or English Williams. It is irregularly shaped, generally swollen on one side of the stem. Its speckled skin is golden yellow, with russet patches or sometimes tinged with red. The tender, juicy flesh is creamy white; and the flavour is sweet, but slightly musky; but they do not keep well. Named after the American grower Enoch Bartlett, it was first raised in 1770 in Berkshire, England, by a schoolmaster called John Stair and was renamed Williams when it arrived in London. In 1817, it was taken to America by Enoch Bartlett and renamed again. The season for these pears begins in late summer. The original variety, Williams Bon Chrétien, is dull green with a red flush. There are now varieties that are a clear greens and reds, as the Red Williams.
is a modern variety, resembling Williams Bon Chrétien
in flavor and texture, but keeps longer.
Beurré is particularly soft and juicy, with only a touch of the gritty texture of other varieties of pears. It includes two good winter eating varieties: Beurre d’Anjou and Beurre Bosc. Beurré Bosc is an elongated pear, having a firm, but juicy, flesh and a buttery texture. Beurré Superfin is a medium to large pear, with a round but conical shape. It has a knobbly skin, but a delicious flavor. Its creamy-white flesh is firm and buttery and extremely juicy, with just a hint of acidity. Beurré Hardy
is a harder variety often used for canning.
is a dark yellow, winter pear with a reddish cast. This variety is unmistakable with its long, tapering neck. Its yellowish-white, juicy flesh has an aromatic flavour, which is described as buttery, but not melting.
is an early-ripening American dessert pear of fair quality, but its texture is rather granular. It is broad, with a dull greenish yellow colour overlaid with some russeting.
also known as Doyenné du Comice (means ‘top of the show’), is one of the finest of pears, with creamy white, melting very juicy flesh and an aromatic flavour. The thick, yellowish green skin is covered with speckles and patches of russeting. These pears are larger than most, with a broad, blunt shape, and available from late autumn to midwinter.
is a widely sold English winter variety that is easily recognized by its long thin shape and extensive russetting on the skin, which turns yellower as it matures. Once described as looking like “a parsnip in khaki battledress”, the Conference has a flavour and texture that outweighs its appearance. Conference was first cultivated in Berkshire in 1770, and remains a British favorite because it is a dual-purpose pear, keeps well, and has a sweet, juicy flavour.
is a golden pear with a deep red flush on one side. The grainy flesh is crisp when eaten raw, but are best when cooked.
is a pear that dates back to the 18th century when it was called Beurre d’Hardenpont. It was named after a Belgian priest, Abbé Nicolas Hardenpont of Mons, who was the first breeder of pears and who gave the world half a dozen of the “melting” pears. Four of these, including this variety, are still available.
is an old French pear, dating from about 1600. It is a dual-purpose pear, with a distinctive aroma that is roughly imitated in the traditional British sweets called pear drops. The main component of the fragrance is amyl acetate – which is also the aroma of nail polish remover.
Josephine de Malines
is a Belgian pear which is still grown commercially in the Southern Hemisphere. Grown in 1830, it was named by its grower, Major Espéren, for his wife and after the area of their home. Malines is a town of Flanders. A good keeper, this variety is the only important pear to have pink flesh and a scent resembling that of the hyacinth.
is a big, coarse, russet pear readily available in Europe. It has no special qualities.
Louise Bonne de Jersey
is a pear that is picked towards the end of September, but not until it has a painted, varnished look. The red must be shining, and the green portion on the way to turning yellow.
is an English pear whose history only goes back to the 1950s. It has a yellowish skin and very soft, juicy flesh, with a good strong pear flavour.
Olivier de Serres
is an old French variety often seen in southern Europe, ripening very late and having a good flavour. It is a dull greenish brown and so squat and short-necked that it might be mistaken for a green russet apple.
is a cross between Laxton’s Superb and Doyenné du Comice. It is exceptionally good eating, but requires peeling.
is the first successful Australian pear. It was first produced by Charles Packham in 1896, and remains a favourite dessert pear. This variety seems to grow best in the Southern Hemisphere.
(Passacrassana, if it comes from Italy) is a very plump, round, late winter pear, suitable mainly for cooking as its texture is somewhat gritty. Very juicy and sweet, this broad dullish green pear is common in southern Europe.
Red Bartlett or Red Williams
has a shiny, green speckled skin with a red blush at first, but turning to a yellow flushed with red. The flesh is juicy and sweet.
is a Portugese pear with greenish yellow skin and russet or brown spotting at the stem. A good keeper, it has firm white flesh and a sugary flavour.
is a small American pear with a good spicy flavour but a granular texture and quite distinct from any of the European varieties. A Sekel pear is brownish yellow and russeted often with a red blush. It is named after the trapper who found the seedling after he bought a piece of woodland in Delaware in 1765.
was a cooking pear often referred to by Shakespeare and Parkinson. For centuries, it was the most commonly grown pear, and originated at the Cistercian Monastery of Wardon in Bedfordshire, England.
Williams Bon Chrétien is more commonly known in the US and Australia as the “Bartlett” (see above). Although excellent for eating raw or cooked, it does not keep well. It was first raised in 1770 in Berkshire by a schoolmaster called John Stair; but was renamed Williams when it arrived in London, and later renamed again when it was taken to America by Enoch Bartlett. There are now several varieties, and all are good for eating raw, cooking, and canning. Although generally a dull green with a red blush, there are now clear green varieties, as well as red ones.
is a roundish, medium-sized, dual-purpose pear that has thick, but tender, greenish-yellow skin with a cinnamon-brown russeting, or sometimes a pink flush. The flesh is creamy white, soft and juicy; and the flavour is sweet and spicy. Winter Nelis is a long-keeping pear in season, but tends to go bad quickly when stored from late autumn to late spring. It is less popular than it once was, partly because of its small size and rough skin. It was named after a 19th century Belgian grower, Jean Charles Nelis.
Asian pears, Chinese pears, Japanese pears, sand pear
(Pyrus pyriformis and Pyrus ussurensis family Rosaceae)
The development of Asian pears is proceeding rapidly. There are two accepted species with the number of varieties increasing. These pears are crisp and never soft like the common pear varieties. Fruits of P. pyriformis are mostly apple-shaped while those of P. ussurensis are not.
There are a great many varieties, cultivars, and hybrids therefore, there is no one general description that could fit for all. Each is unique with its own size, shape, colour, and flavour. The variety most popular in Japan and the US is the Twentieth Century (Nijisseiki) is a round fruit which is quite sweet and very juicy.
Asian pears need to be cooked for a long time and if eaten raw, it must be remembered that they will always be more crisp and crunchy. They are better enjoyed if they are sliced very thinly.
There are many varieties of Asian or Nashi pears but their characteristics are similar to that of other pears except that many are round rather than the familiar “pear-shape”.
Other notable varieties include the following:
have much the same crunch and juiciness as Tientsin pears, and taste like a cross between an apple and an unripe pear.
were used mainly as “alcoholic” pears. A few producers still press them into juice, wine, or “champagne” perry. Although there are about 300 known varieties, they are never sold commercially. They look delicious; but, because they contain large amounts of tannin, their taste is bitter and astringent, raw or cooked.
are from China and Korea and are very similar to Asian Nashi pears, both in taste and in texture. Tientsins are available when others are not in season. They are crunchy, but juicy, and have an elongated shape, tapering at both ends.