Crisp, juicy, sweet, delicate-skinned, subtly fragrant, wonderfully grainy – the pear is the sophisticate of the common fruit bowl, and it’s at its best in autumn.
Before I delve into “what to do with pears”, here’s a brief pear education. The pear’s gritty texture is due to the presence of stone cells or sclereids in its flesh, which are cells with very thick, woody cell walls. Layers of elongated stone cells also form the tough seed enclosure in the centre of apples – but in pears, they’re scattered through every bite.
If you get overwhelmed by which type of pear to choose at the supermarket, as I occasionally do, know that there are actually 3,000 known varieties of pear. With wild pears only measuring 1 to 4 cm in diameter, we’ve come a long way, with a standard Nashi having a waistline of over 7 cm.
Pear origins have been traced back to the Tian Shan mountain range in Western China, and they were cultivated in Ancient Rome, and Pliny’s Natural History suggests stewing them with honey (still a great recommendation).
Fun fact: pear purée is the “fruit” part in a Fruit Roll-Up.
Where to find pears
Autumn is pear time, and there are plenty of varieties available. At New World, Packham pears (the green ones), Bosc Beurre pears (the small, elegant-necked, brown ones), and Winter Nelis (the sort of green-brown patchy ones) are $5.49/kg. Nashi pears (the crisp, delicate, round ones) are $6.99/kg, so more of a once-in-a-while treat.
Pak’nSave pears (Packham and Bosc Beurre) are a bit more affordable at $3.99/kg. Over at Countdown, you can either buy Angelys (“the queen of pears”) for $4/kg, or double your money for a Piqa Boo pear at $7.99/kg.
Supie sells their many varieties of pears as triplets because, assumedly, they otherwise get lonely. Three Taylors Golds are $1.99, three Belles are $2.50, three Packhams are $3, three Boscs are $3.49, three Nashis are $5.99, and three Piqa Boos are $6.50. A fair amount of hierarchy going on there.
A brief note on the locally grown Piqa Boo pear: excellent. Like a small, beautiful Nashi with a hint of strawberry flavour. Yes, it’s pricey – but it’s also my new favourite fruit treat, and a lovely beacon of autumnness, with its crisp flesh and stunning red skin. Well done, pear cultivators.
How to make pears terrible
I’ve been staring at the words “pears” and “terrible” and drawing a blank. I suppose you could intentionally bruise one by dropping it on the floor from a height? I suppose you could neglect one in your fruit bowl until it becomes distressingly soft? I suppose you could make homemade perry, aka pear cider, and really mess up the fermentation?
Otherwise, you’re pretty safe with a pear.
How to make pears amazing
I’m going to make a big claim: four of my top 10 favourite desserts revolve around fresh pears. It only makes sense, really – pears pair (ha) perfectly with all the best desserty flavours: chocolate, ginger, nuts, wine and liquor, spices, honey… I still think with fond longing of a warm, spiced brandy and pear cocktail, containing half a poached pear, which I had for my 22nd birthday on a cold, rainy night.
If you’re looking to make a pear-focused dessert, you can’t go past poached pears. Simple, elegant, and easy to make, you simply peel some firm pears and simmer them in a pot of sweetened, spiced, alcohol-spiked liquid of your choice until tender, then serve with ice cream or mascarpone. For your poaching liquid, try white wine with vanilla pods, a cinnamon stick, and lemon zest, or red wine with orange peel, orange juice, and whole cloves. So wintry, so warming.
Other favourites are pear and frangipane tart, and grated pear, chocolate, and hazelnut cake. My classic, though, is pear and gingerbread cake. The easy cake batter is full of golden syrup and spices, and balanced perfectly with the tender pear halves. It’s lovely as dessert, warm and served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or as a slice of cake with tea.
For more everyday pear use, here’s a salad and a breakfast idea. Since tomatoes are now officially awful and a salad of leaves isn’t very inspiring, it’s time to get creative. Thinly sliced pear, rocket, and balsamic vinaigrette makes a beautiful salad – even better if topped with walnuts and crumbled cheese, like feta, soft goat’s cheese, blue cheese or shaved parmesan.
I’ve written previously about both apple porridge and feijoa porridge, but pear porridge is undoubtedly my favourite autumn or winter breakfast. For two servings, add one grated pear, half a cup of rolled oats, a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of salt and a cup of milk (any kind) into a saucepan, along with enough water to make everything slosh around quite freely. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7-8 minutes, until thickened but still sloppy, then serve with a little drizzle of cream.
Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, and runs a weekly meal plan that connects to online supermarket shopping.