December was National pear month and my friends at Harvest PR and Marketing sent me a pear sampler box to mark the occasion. There are over 3,000 known pear varieties grown around the world, but only a handful of heirloom varieties have been cultivated. Up until recently, I didn’t even know there were so many varieties of pears available in US markets. All I paid attention to at my local grocery store was the red (Red Anjou) and the green (Bartlett) kinds, and the occasional small green ones (Seckel). Each pear variety has it’s own distinct flavor, growing season, food and cheese pairing. Check the USA Pears web site for detailed information on the pear varieties available to you. It’s quite fascinating!

Did you know that pear is one of those fruits that does not ripen on a tree? According to USA Pears 84% of pear shoppers don’t know how to determine ripeness. They recommend “checking the neck” to see if it yields to gentle pressure. Then you know the pear is ripe and juicy.

While there are countless recipes that can be prepared using pears, my favorites include serving them raw, pairing with cheese and incorporating in salads.  I love the fresh, juicy taste of a just-ripe pear. But here are some recipes is you like to get more creative. Many of them are internationally inspired and prepared by renowned chefs from around the country. See Alaskan king crab with pear tabbouleh salad, Braised Bartlett pear and chicken pastilla, Pulled pork and pear empanadas and much more.

A quick and easy recipe that would please any crowd is a Harvest Salad. Just add fresh chopped apples, pears, raisins, red onions with some lemon juice and keep aside. Spread on a bed of spinach leaves. Top crumbled blue cheese or Gorgonzola and chopped walnuts. Make a dressing by whisking olive oil, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt and Dijon mustard. Drizzle on top of salad.

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