How To Eat The Best Possible Pears

Tips for catching the five-minute window when pears are perfectly ripe.

Pears are a quintessential fall and winter fruit, often hearty enough to use in baked desserts and with a slight sweetness that complements a range of savory dishes. Many people can them for later, or eat them "in hand" like an apple. They can be fickle little things, though, often going from hard as a baseball to overripe in a matter of minutes (exaggeration). Once they're too ripe, they bruise and their skin falls off, which is real horror show, and at that point they become both compost fodder and a waste of money.

To avoid such a tragedy, you must learn the method to their madness. Here's all you need to know about when and how to properly devour a pear.

Check the neck

Much like how you might feel for someone's pulse in their neck to check for signs of life, the neck is where you can determine the ripeness of a pear. "Check the Neck" is the expression used by USA Pears to describe the best method for determining ripeness. Unlike many non-climacteric fruits, pears are often picked well before they're ripe and steadily ripen at room temperature once you bring them home from the store.

Advertisement

To speed up the process, place your pears next to a banana, which farts out ethylene gas and accelerates ripening. Storing pears in a brown bag works, too, since this traps more of the gas around the outside of the fruit. When you want to check for ripeness, press the "neck" of the pear, the thinner part near the stem, with your thumb like you're being fingerprinted. If there's some yield, your pear is ripe (unless it's an Asian pear, which are always rock-hard). If you don't have immediate plans for your pears, put them in the fridge at this point to slow the ripening process until you want to use them.

What to do with an overripe pear

It's sad when you test your pear and it's too far gone into the ripeness zone of no return. But, never fear, for these are the best pears for blending. Pears and apples can be used interchangeably to make pear butter, sauce, or other blended things, but they're actually more convenient since, unlike apples, you don't have to cook them first to soften them up. Pear scraps, meanwhile, can be made into vinegar.

Advertisement

Use overripe pears in a hearty fall soup for a touch of sweetness and added smoothness, or add them to smoothies raw. You can make decadent pear sauces from blended pears, which can be used on savory dishes like pork or over desserts such as cake.

Preserve your pears

If you have pears on the cusp of overripeness and don't plan to use them soon, there's a way to save them: You can keep properly sealed pear butter on the shelf for a long time, but you can also prepare the fruit in other ways to preserve it. Pear jam, compote, chutney, or preserves can be slathered on a fresh almond butter sandwich, spooned atop your morning toast, or blended into various desserts. As long as it doesn't contain any dairy, pear sauce can also be canned and stored for a long time.

Advertisement

You can also pickle sliced or whole pears, a snack that sounds way better than the plastic cups of pears in syrup you get at the grocery store. Drying them or making them into chips with a dehydrator (or just using the oven) results in both a creative party offering and the perfect snack to throw in your lunch to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Stiff as a board

Sliced pears, like sliced apples, oxidize once their flesh breathes in the cool autumn air, and while their flavor technically doesn't change when this happens, they start to look gross fast. To keep this from happening quite so quickly, slice up an under-ripe or firm pear, or use a spritz of lemon juice mixed with water to preserve freshness.

Advertisement

These firmer pear slices are good additions to salads or cheese boards. You can also use them for dipping, or cook them down for use in savory dishes. Many pears have different flavor profiles which can also change based on the ripeness and firmness of the fruit, so play around and see which varieties you like best when.

Pair sweet with savory

Because their flavor is mild and lends itself well to "warm" spices, pears are a great addition to entrees and appetizers, either raw or cooked. Raw, they make for a good garnish, or as a base for cheese.

Advertisement

Cooked pears can be used within either meat or vegetarian dishes. They make a good marinade for pork, but can go with any meat or fish of your choosing. On pizzas and flatbreads, they hold their liquid when cooked, making them a creative topping that won't turn to mush. Speaking of which, smush raw pears between layers of a sandwich or add them to your next panini for a fun twist on your typical lunch. Breakfast offers a whole host of other possibilities, from oatmeal to pancakes to a sweet and savory hash.

Desserts and drinks

Pears can function as both the supporting player or the star of any dessert in which they're featured. In cakes and other baked goods, pears often take on a slightly alcoholic taste once baked, but that only makes the final product taste more luxurious. Poaching pears involves submerging them in spiced liquid and cooking them in their own juices on low heat, the results of which can be used in a variety of creative recipes or simply served as-is.

Advertisement

In drinks, both alcoholic and non-, it's best to lean into the sweetness of the pears rather than try to fight it. Pear puree cocktails are delightful, or you can use sliced pears as garnish, especially the brightly colored ones like Red Anjou or Bartlett. For an extra flourish, you can stick a thin slice of dried pear on the rim of the glass.

Recommended

Advertisement