Versatile pears have many flavors

M ore than 3,000 known pear varieties are grown around the world, but only a few varieties make it to south Louisiana grocery stores. Most of those are grown in the northwest United States, and are in season in the fall and winter months.

The pear doesn’t ripen on the tree. According to the USA Pears Web site, http://www.usapears.com, the fruit is harvested when mature but not yet ripe. Ripen firm fruit by leaving it on the counter at room temperature.

So, how do you tell when the pear is ready to eat?

The Bartlett variety’s skin color will brighten, but most other varieties show little change in color.

For those, “check the neck” daily, the USA Pears organization says. When the neck near the stem yields to gentle pressure from your thumb, it’s ready to eat and can be refrigerated for up to five days in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

Firm, ripe pears are needed for cooking. Softer pears will turn mealy.

Before eating or peeling, thoroughly wash pears under cold, drinkable water. Take extra care to clean the indentations near the top and bottom of the pear.

To keep the flesh of cut or peeled pears from browning, dip in a mild solution of half water and half lemon juice.

Toss pear slices in fruit or green salads, serve in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, roll up with turkey, cheese and lettuce in a tortilla, or layer with granola and yogurt for an easy parfait. Overripe pears can be blended into smoothies, soups and sauces. They also can be used in place of apples in any recipe.

A medium-size pear has 98 calories. An excellent source of fiber and a good source of vitamin C, each pear variety has a distinctive flavor profile and texture.