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Everyday Food, Volume 6 October 2003

Juicy, sweet, and fragrant, pears ripen well after they're picked.

What to Look For
Native to Asia, pears now come in more than 5,000 varieties. The most popular ones are the Bosc, Comice, D'Anjou, and Bartlett (see below). Choose pears that are firm, without blemishes, and with stems attached. The pears for sale at the supermarket have often spent a few months in cool storage, so they are usually still a few days away from being fully ripe.

When Is It Ripe?
Determining when a pear is ripe can be tricky because a ripe pear remains firm and generally will not change color. The pear should give slightly around the stem and blossom ends. You can speed the ripening process by placing the fruit in a brown paper bag with an apple or a banana; the pears will soon be ready to eat. If you plan on poaching or cooking pears, make sure they are a bit underripe so they'll hold their shape.

A Glossary
Russet skin with a matte finish. Crisp and firm even when quite ripe. Good for poaching.

Greenish-yellow skin. If soft, it's overripe. Very flavorful. Good for eating and baking.

Thin-skinned and slightly grainy. Creamy flesh. Holds its shape well. Best for poaching.

Smooth skin. Ripens to a bright yellow. Soft, sweet flesh. Good for eating and baking.

Preparing Pears
To help retain the shape of the pear, use a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife to peel the skin; work downward from stem to end.

Preventing Discoloration
The flesh browns fast when exposed to air; rub surface with a halved lemon, or sprinkle with lemon juice.

After you've halved the pear through the stem, use a melon baller to remove the seeds, and the tip of a paring knife to cut the gritty flesh around the stem and core.

Cut off stem and blossom ends, then slice the pear halves into quarters, wedges, or thinner sections, as desired. Slice pears just before using so that they don't brown.

Quick Pear Snacks
The creamy, sweet flesh of the pear is a good companion to a wide array of foods, such as cheese, meats, grains, and greens. And, of course, pears make great desserts.

Blue Cheese and Spinach Salad
Set pear shavings and blue cheese on a bed of baby spinach; sprinkle with nuts.

Prosciutto Wraps
Wrap peeled, cored, and trimmed pear quarters with thinly sliced prosciutto.

Honey and Toasted Almonds
Drizzle a cored and sliced pear quarter with honey; add toasted, sliced almonds.

Caramel Fondue
Dip trimmed pear quarters into heated store-bought caramel sauce.

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