The history and culture of the pear is as ancient as it is interesting.
The history and culture of the pear is as ancient as it is interesting. First mentioned in a literary by Homer in the 9th century BC, they originated in two distinct locations, creating two very distinct types. The first mention of commercial cultivation dates back to around 5,000 BC, when a Chinese diplomat named Feng Li became obsessed with them and abandoned his position of power to cultivate them on a commercial basis.
Pears are divided between two very distinct categories based on origin: Asian or European.
The Asian family of pears are shaped like apples with a uniform tannish color, and they have a crisp flesh that are better suited for use where cooking isn’t required. European pears have the shape and flavor of what most Americans associate with a pear. Cultivation in the United States began in 1621 when the first European settlers made landfall in New England. Unlike how they had done in Europe, the first pear trees were grown from seeds.
France became the epicenter for what eventually resulted in an obsession. In the 17th and 18th centuries, private gardens were quite the rage in France, with pears being prized above all other fruits. In 1661, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, lawyer and botanist who was responsible for the gardens at Versailles, wrote,
“It must be confessed that, among all fruits in this place, nature does not show anything so beautiful nor so noble as this pear. It is pear that makes the greatest honor on the tables…”
Pear culture reached its pinnacle in Victorian England, where private gardens often had over 50 varieties of under cultivation. Why so many? Basically, it was because there was no easy way to store fruit throughout the year without it rotting. They have an advantage with their different harvest schedules and the ability for the fruit to be stored for extended periods of time. This allowed them to be enjoyed across multiple seasons. So what changed? Pears are a finicky fruit. They are extremely delicate, and as such, are always sold in a very under-ripe state, with most people too impatient to wait for that peak moment of bliss. Unlike an apple, they will ripen once picked.
So how do you know when a pear is ripe? This is pretty easy—lightly press the pear near on the stem end, once the flesh yields to light pressure, you know it’s ready to eat.
Pear Facts via USA Pears
- There are over 900 pear farmers in Oregon and Washington
- Pears are the #1 tree fruit crop in Oregon and the #3 tree fruit crop in Washington
- The combined fresh pear production exceeds 442,000 tons per year
- Most canned pears are the Bartlett variety
There is a traditional pear based brandy known as Eau de Vie de Poire that actually has a full sized pear in each bottle. So how do they do that? Watch this short video for the answer.
Pears are a great addition to your fall and winter menus, call your account representative for details today.
Overall, pears are available year round, but are at their best in the fall and winter months when they are harvested.
Content provided by Daniel Snowden, the Director of Culinary Development for FreshPoint Central Florida. He has been in the produce industry years almost 20 years, and loves getting geeky about food. Follow FreshPoint Central Florida on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.