Originally from Asia, the pear tree has existed since the Neolithic era, as evidenced by the numerous pear seeds found in archeological sites.
It seems that pear trees were first cultivated in China earlier than 4000 BC, but it was the Romans who developed their cultivation in Europe, as they knew how to graft and prune trees and so created different varieties. There were about sixty varieties by the end of the Roman Empire in 476 AD.
They ate them raw or cooked, or even sundried.
To judge by the name of certain varieties in the Middle Ages, the "rosy pebble" or the "choke pear", it can be assumed that pears did not taste great back then! They improved in the 18th century thanks to a Belgian monk, Nicolas Hardenpont, who created the first variety that had taste and was juicy. But before that, La Quintinie, Louis XIV's gardener, who cultivated various pear trees in Versailles, had established a system of classifying pears as good or bad.
Pears were considered a royal fruit and were given to the Kings of France during their coronation in Reims.
Pears are always harvested before they are ripe. Firstly because they are fragile, but also because when they mature on the tree, their flesh becomes grainy. They are stored in refrigerated rooms after they are picked.
The skin of a good pear should have no bruises or marks. The flesh should be quite soft around the stalk. The intensity of its smell is a sign of how ripe it is.
Pears are sold fresh but also dried and sliced, canned in water or in syrup, frozen in quarters or chunks, or made into compote or jam.
They are used to make a low-alcoholic drink called poirée and an eau-de-vie (Poire Williams).
Pears are produced everywhere in the world where the climate is conducive to the growth of the pear tree. China, Italy, the United States, and Russia are the largest producers. Pears from South Africa are exported to Europe in the spring, a period of low production for the European pear.
Once a pear has been peeled and cut, it should always be coated with lemon juice as it will oxidize quickly.
Pears are used in savory dishes as an accompaniment for game or poultry, cut into quarters, and fried or cooked in a spiced unsweetened wine.
It is the queen of the dessert world: pears in syrup, pears poached in wine, Poire Belle Helene, douillon, Tatin, in a flan, in a bavarois. They go very well with chocolate and can be turned into ice cream or sorbet.
In the open air, for a varying amount of time depending on how ripe they are. Refrigeration damages their flavor.
Dried pears keep well in a dry place.
Like all fruit, pear contains carbohydrates and plenty of water.
It is fairly high in fiber but low in vitamins and minerals.
There are several hundred varieties of pears in the world, only some of which are cultivated.
In France, the most common are:
Alexandrine Douillard: created in 1849, yellow skin with hints of brown, not very juicy. September through November.
Angelys: created in 2000 by the INRA (the French National Institute of Agronomic Research), it is a cross between the Doyenné du Comice and the Doyenné d'Hiver. Copper-color skin, very juicy. It will keep for up to 3 weeks. December through June.
Beurré Hardy: created in 1920, olive-green skin. Very delicate flesh. September through December.
Comice, Doyenné du Comice: fairly round, yellow-green skin with hints of pink or brown, very delicate and juicy. October through February.
Conference: created in 1885. Bronze-green, long and slender, juicy. October through mid-May.
Guyot (Dr. Jules): created in 1870. Light green to yellow, very juicy. July through September.
Louise-Bonne d'Avranches: created in 1780, yellowish green skin. October through February.
Passe-Crassane: created in 1855, yellow and extremely marbled. January through March.
Williams: created in 1796, yellow to light green or red. August through October.
In Europe and other continents, other varieties are cultivated: Beurré Alexandre Lucas, Köstliche von Charneux, Bartlett (equivalent to the Williams), Triomphe de Vienne, Bartlett, Williams Bon-Chrétien d'Angleterre, Bosc, Packham, Rocha, etc. Harovin Sundown is a variety that was developed recently in Canada.
The Belle angevine (Pound pear) and the Poire de curé are cooking pears. They are quite rare.