(All photos courtesy of USAPear.org)
A few weeks ago, a reader emailed to ask why she wasn’t finding Sekel pears in the grocery stores yet. She watches for them each year and was wondering what the delay is in their arrival. I hadn’t heard of a crop failure and, since I’m not plugged into the grocery supply chain, I didn’t have a decent answer to give her.Sekels, widely believed to be the only pear native to the USA, should be in harvest right now; normally they’re available September through February. The plump, diminutive pear with green skin and maroon blush is a favorite because size doesn’t matter when you pack a lot of sweetness into a tiny fruit. So why aren’t we seeing them yet?
“Sekels are available but it’s such a small crop for the Northwest growers that they’re fewer of them,” says Kathy Stephenson, Director of Marketing Communications for USAPears. “There’s no crop failure; there’s still a good crop, though on a smaller scale. What it comes down to is retailers choosing to bring them in or not.”
Smaller harvests can mean higher prices, something retailers take into consideration when ordering. Stephenson suggested trying a different grocer to see if they’re carrying Sekels. The wee pear is worth the hunt: they add elegance to holiday trays and the Pear Bureau suggests canning them whole for gifts.
Often confused with Sekels are Forelle pears, almost kissing-cousin in size. But Forelles have freckles, while Sekels do not; the bright red spots – lenticles, for gas exchange – are an easy way to tell to petite pears apart. Like Sekels, Forelles are best eaten fresh.
Looking for a slightly larger pear to add elegance to a cheese plate? Try the soft, juicy Comice pear.Bartletts are found early in pear season, with harvest starting in late
Big, round, and buttery soft, the Doyenné
Du Comice, or Comice, is a French pear from the Angers area. They’re popular as gifts around winter holidays
and are stand-out fresh eating fruit.
The Pear Bureau notes that, because of its high juice content, Comice is
not at its best when cooked.
August. They’re the classic, plump pear that can be canned, cooked, or dried. Historically, Bartletts are the same pear known as Williams to the rest of the world; its name changed when Enoch Bartlett purchased property without any notes left for him on what tree varieties he acquired.
Concordes are tall, lean, yellow-green pears that stand up to grilling, roasting, or other methods of cooking up your feast. With overtones of vanilla in their flavor and resistance to browning once
Bosc pears have the classic long neck that widens to a rounded base. Their skin is russeted, a natural occurrence for this fruit. Look for them in the produce section starting in late September. Flavorful and sweet early in their ripening, they take well to spices such as cinnamon or clove. Bosc are ideal for baking, roasting, or cooking into pear butters.The most commonly available pear is Anjou, either in green or red varieties. The squat, larger pear is a good, all-purpose fruit that can be cooked, eaten fresh, or enjoyed in chutneys.
To know when a pear is ripe, the Pear Bureau has advice: “Check the Neck for Ripeness™ daily by gently pressing your thumb near the stem end of the pear. When it gives slightly, the pear is ripe. Pears ripen from the inside out, and the neck is the narrowest part of the pear, closest to the core. If you wait for the wider, bottom half of the pear to become soft to the touch, you’ll find the inside to be over-ripe.”