When thinking of Washington farm products, most of us think of apples. Washington is known as the largest apple producing state in the country. Did you know that Washington farmers are also the top producers of pears?
Apples are a wonderful fruit and I enjoy many varieties of them, but if we were going to do true confessions I’d have to admit pears are my favorite tree fruit. They’ve been my favorite for as long as I can remember, going all the way back to childhood. When I was in my twenties, I can still vividly remember the time at a friend’s house in Alaska when I first tasted fresh pears with Gorgonzola cheese. I think I may have swooned.
When I eat pears, I usually eat them raw, whole or sliced. I’ve never really cooked with them very much, so I decided it was time to do a little research. Here’s a summary of what I found about common varieties:
- Anjou Pears: Anjous have a firm texture and mild flavor. They can be green or quite red when ripe.
- Asian Pears: These have the crunchiest, firmest texture of all the pears. Their flavor is very mild.
- Bartlett Pears: For sweet juiciness, Bartlett’s lead the pack. If you want to make pear juice, Bartlett is your best bet. They’re usually green or yellow skinned, sometimes with a rosy blush.
- Bosc Pears: Bosc’s will stand up well to cooking, and are only a little less crisp than Asian pears. They have a sweeter flavor, though, and a russet colored skin. They are good raw, too, and don’t need to be peeled to be enjoyed.
- Comice Pears: Most pears tend to be a little grainy in the mouth, but Comice has a smoother texture and a strong pear flavor.
- Seckel Pears and French Butter Pears: both of these are known as extraordinarily sweet and wonderful pears to eat raw. If they aren’t perfectly ripe, though, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.
For cooking, if you want a pear that keeps its shape and doesn’t fall apart, Bosc is considered the best option, followed closely by Anjou. If you are making sauce or butter and you want the pear to fall apart while cooking, Bartlett is the very best. As the Bartlett’s juice is released the pear slices disintegrate quickly and easily into a soft mush.
This year I’ve had mostly Bosc pears in my kitchen, with just a few Bartlett’s and a dozen Seckel’s that arrived yesterday and are still ripening. I bought some Boscs at Full Bloom Farm’s produce stand here on Lummi Island with the hope of canning some for the winter. However, my family ate most of them raw before I could get the canning gear out of the pantry. Yesterday, though, a friend brought me a big box of Boscs from a tree at her sister’s home which produced a bumper crop of fruit this year. I got four quarts canned tonight and will probably get eight more quarts done tomorrow. Hooray!
Boscs in this country were first planted around 1832 or 1833 in the eastern U.S. and those plantings first bore fruit in 1836. Now they are grown mostly in the Pacific Northwest, here in Washington and in Oregon, too.
Because Boscs are one of the firmer pears, and because of the russeting of their skin, it can be a little challenging to tell when Boscs are ripe. Most sources I found suggest testing the neck of the pears, the part a quarter to a half inch just below the stem at the top of the pear. If you push there gently with your thumb, you should feel a little give if it’s ripe. The rest of the Bosc will be firm like an apple.
Bosc have a strong enough pear flavor that they are not easily overwhelmed by other ingredients, so are popular for cooking. They are perfect for grilling, roasting, baking, poaching, sauteing–any cooking method where you want the pear slices to stay in one piece. Common flavoring ingredients used with Boscs are wine, mint, thyme, sage, basil, and non-locavore spices (i.e., not grown in Whatcom County) such as cinnamon or nutmeg. As with most any pear, strong cheese flavors make a delicious contrast to the mild and sweet pear flavor.
For the recipe linked below, I chose a vinegar reduction for a tart contrast to the sweet pear, some hazelnuts to add a roasted crunch, and some basil as an earthy note to warm up the pear’s brightness. I recommend you be sitting down when you taste it. You might swoon!