Getting the Best from Your Pears: A Five-Minute Sweet Spot
Pears are a classic treat during fall and winter, loved for their subtle sweetness and versatility. They can star in desserts or add a delightful touch to savory dishes.
But handling pears can be tricky—they can go from rock hard to mushy in what seems like no time at all.
When they’re too ripe, they easily bruise, lose their skin, and become more suitable for compost than consumption.
But fear not! There’s a method to this pear madness. Let’s dive into the simple secrets of when and how to enjoy a pear at its peak.
How to Tell if a Pear is Ripe: The ‘Check the Neck’ Trick
Checking a pear’s ripeness is like checking a person’s pulse—it happens at the neck. When it comes to pears, ‘Check the Neck’ is the perfect phrase to remember for finding the right ripeness. Pears are usually harvested before they’re fully ripe and then left to ripen at home.
To speed up the ripening process, keep your pears near a banana. Bananas release ethylene gas that helps them ripen faster. Storing pears in a brown bag also works because it traps the gas around the fruit.
When you’re ready to check for ripeness, gently press the ‘neck’ of the pear, the narrower part close to the stem, with your thumb as if taking a fingerprint.
If it gives slightly, the pear is ripe (unless it’s an Asian pear, which remains firm). If you’re not planning to eat the pears right away, store them in the fridge at this point to slow down the ripening until you’re ready to enjoy them.
What to do with an overripe pear
If you find your pear has ripened beyond the perfect point, don’t worry! Overripe pears are actually great for blending. Pears and apples can be used similarly to make pear butter, sauce, or other blended treats. The advantage with pears is that, unlike apples, you don’t need to cook them to soften them up. You can also turn leftover pear scraps into vinegar.
For a hearty fall soup with a touch of sweetness and smoothness, incorporate overripe pears. Alternatively, throw them into smoothies without any cooking. Blended pears can create luscious sauces, perfect for enhancing both savory dishes like pork and sweet treats like cake.
Preserving Your Pears
If you have pears that are about to become too ripe and you won’t be using them soon, there’s a way to save them. You can store well-sealed pear butter on your shelf for a long time, and you can also prepare the fruit in various other ways to preserve it.
Pear jam, compote, chutney, or preserves can be spread on a fresh almond butter sandwich, spooned onto your morning toast, or blended into different desserts. As long as it doesn’t have dairy, you can can and store pear sauce for an extended period.
Another option is to pickle sliced or whole pears, a much better snack than the plastic cups of pears in syrup you might find at the grocery store.
You can also dry them or turn them into chips using a dehydrator (or simply your oven), creating a unique party offering and a perfect snack for your lunch to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Stiff as a board
When you slice pears, much like when you slice apples, they can quickly turn unappealing due to exposure to the autumn air. While their taste remains the same during this process, their appearance deteriorates rapidly.
To slow down this browning, slice an under-ripe or firm pear, or lightly spritz the slices with a mixture of lemon juice and water to maintain their freshness.
These firmer pear slices are great for adding to salads or cheese boards. You can also use them for dipping or cook them down to use in savory dishes.
Different pears have unique flavor profiles that can vary based on their ripeness and firmness, so feel free to experiment and discover your favorite varieties.
Pears for a Sweet and Savory Blend
With their gentle flavor profile, pears are perfect for enhancing both entrees and appetizers, whether you enjoy them fresh or cooked. Fresh pears work well as a garnish or a base for pairing with cheese.
When cooked, pears complement various dishes, whether meat-based or vegetarian. They make a great marinade for pork and pair nicely with any meat or fish.
On pizzas and flatbreads, they retain their texture and add a unique topping without getting mushy.
You can also mash raw pears between layers of a sandwich or add them to a panini for a delightful twist to your regular lunch. Breakfast options abound, from incorporating them into oatmeal or pancakes to creating a sweet and savory hash.
Versatility in Desserts and Drinks
Pears can play a supporting role or take center stage in desserts. When baked into cakes or other treats, pears develop a slightly alcoholic taste that elevates the overall flavor.
Poaching pears in spiced liquid intensifies their sweetness and provides a base for various creative recipes or a simple and delicious serving. In drinks, alcoholic or not, embracing the natural sweetness of pears is key.
Delight in pear puree cocktails or use sliced pears as a garnish, especially the vibrant ones like Red Anjou or Bartlett. For an elegant touch, consider adorning the glass rim with a thin slice of dried pear.”