What is a pear?
Ripe pears bursting with juice are a classic addition to desserts and breakfasts, either fresh or poached with aromatic spices. Their delicate flavour also makes a perfect addition to simple starters such as fresh pear wrapped in ham or prosciutto, or cheese platters, where crisp slices of pear accompany robust cheeses such as cheddar or gorgonzola.
Pears are believed to have originated in China before spreading to the mild and temperate regions of Europe. They were cultivated in ancient times and were enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans. There is a recipe for stewed, spiced pear in the ancient Roman cookbook, the Apicius. In the 18th century, the French and Belgians developed the fruit that are the ancestors of the pears that we eat today.
Pear trees arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1787, and more were planted during the gold rush in the 1850s. Some wild pear trees are still found today in the old mining districts.
In Australia, pears are available by variety. One of the most common types is the Packham (or Packham’s Triumph), which has green skin that turns yellow when ripe. The Williams (or Bartlett) is also common and has light green skin that also turns yellow when ripe. Both pear varieties have white, juicy flesh when ripe.
Another common pear is the Beurre Bosc, which has an elongated, tapering neck and a greenish brown skin that becomes darker when ripe. The flesh is white and juicy and grittier than other varieties. It is a great cooking pear as it holds its shape well.
Other varieties include the Red Sensation (or Sensation), which has creamy white flesh and red skin with yellow near the stem, and the Corella, a small pear with green skin streaked with red and gold. This type of pear has yellow, very sweet and juicy flesh. The Josephine, Comice, Red (and green) d’Anjou, Winter Nelis and Winter Colis are also available throughout the season.The nashi or Chinese or Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) is not a cross between an apple and a pear but a unique species. It was originally brought to Australia by Chinese goldminers in the 1850s. This yellow-skinned, round pear has crisp, juicy flesh.
Why pears are good to eat
- Pears are a source of vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body), K (important for helping your blood to clot) and folate.
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Pears contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of pear (depending on the variety) supplies about 230 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Pear trees are deciduous trees (they lose their leaves every year) that grow best in cool to mild climates. They can grow up to 15 m as a pyramid-shaped tree and should be planted in a sunny, sheltered position. The tree has shiny, dark green leaves that are round to oval-shaped. Pear trees have fragrant white flowers that develop into clusters of fruit when pollinated.
Pears can be picked off the tree before they are ripe. Handpick the fruit when it is firm, green and mature by cutting the stalk from the branch. The skin of pears is very sensitive to damage so take care when handling the fruit.
Some species of pear trees are used as ornamental trees.
Choose pears that are firm, with intact stems. Avoid those that have cuts, bruises or other blemishes on their skin.
To check the ripeness of a pear, press gently near the stem. If it ‘gives’, then it is ready to eat.
How to store and keep pears
Store unripe pears at room temperature. They will ripen within three to five days. You can also ripen pears by placing them in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple.
Once the pears are ripe, store them in the crisper section of your fridge. They will last for a few days when stored this way.
How to use
- Make a versatile salad – combine slices of pear (try Corella), rocket, red oak lettuce leaves and shaved parmesan cheese and dress with a honey, red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard vinaigrette, then serve alongside steak or as a starter.
- Serve an easy chicken dish – mix watercress, lettuce, sliced pears, sprouts and parsley, then add sliced cooked chicken breast and pour over a dressing made with orange juice, balsamic vinegar, wholegrain mustard, fresh chopped tarragon and oil.
- Enjoy a simple starter – roast sliced pears until soft and golden, then combine with mixed salad leaves and cooked pancetta (or bacon), scatter with blue cheese and dress with red wine vinegar and oil before serving.
- Try a healthy pear and celeriac soup – sauté garlic, chopped ginger and shallots, add chopped pears, celeriac and vegetable stock, gently simmer until the celeriac is soft, then whiz in a food processor and sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley before eating.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
Content on this website is provided for information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not in any way endorse or support such therapy, service, product or treatment and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. The information and materials contained on this website are not intended to constitute a comprehensive guide concerning all aspects of the therapy, product or treatment described on the website. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions and to ascertain whether the particular therapy, service, product or treatment described on the website is suitable in their circumstances. The State of Victoria and the Department of Health & Human Services shall not bear any liability for reliance by any user on the materials contained on this website.