Pears have been a popular fruit in the Western part of the world at least since the time of the Romans, who took it with them throughout their empire. There are thousands of varieties, though only a few dozen are major commercial crops. Some are better in canning, others for cooking or baking and still others for eating fresh off the tree. While the "best" of anything is a subjective matter, pears for eating uncooked are usually the sweetest and juiciest and have a smooth, rather than a grainy, texture.
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Comice pears are not as common at the supermarket as the familiar Bartlett and Bosc, but they are not uncommon. They are plump pears that taper gently to a peak, rather than forming a long neck like a Bosc. Their texture is quite fine and they are very juicy and sweet. The flesh is soft, but it does not become mushy if cooked or baked. Comice is a fall variety, generally available from September until January or February. They are very popular in Europe as a pear to eat fresh and are described in Larousse Gastronomique as "the most esteemed of pears."
Although pears are loved almost everywhere, it must be said that the French and Belgians have embraced them like few other nations. A large number of French pears are described as "beurré," meaning buttery. This describes a pear with a soft and melting texture, free of the graininess that mars other cultivars. The "Doyenne d'Hiver," also sometimes called the Easter butter pear, is an outstanding example of this type. So is the Beurré Hardy, a French variety with a delicate pink color and hints of rose water in its aroma.They are unfortunately difficult to find in North America.
Seckel pears are the smallest of the commercially important pears. They are roughly triangular in cross-section and fit neatly into the palm of the hand. Their name is German and derives from the word for sugar. Seckels have a thick skin and can be somewhat acidic if under ripe, which often causes their quality as an eating pear to be overlooked. When well-ripened, however, they are among the very sweetest of pears and have a fine texture. They are easily peeled for those who are put off by the skin.
Among the commonly available pears in American supermarkets, Bartletts are the best for eating out of hand. They are medium in size with sweet and tender flesh and a thin skin. Although they are excellent fresh or in fruit salads, Bartletts disintegrate quickly when heated and are not suitable for cooking or baking. Bartlett pears are known as Williams, or "Bon Chrétien," which means good Christian.