Celebrating the tree that partridge sits in

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Many fruits are out of season during the winter months, but pears are available nearly year-round, which makes them a great addition to any meal. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and skin colors, including green, golden, yellow and red. Pears can be eaten raw or cooked. They are great as a quick snack, to chop and add to fruit salads, and can also be baked, broiled or grilled. December is National Pear Month. Check out the following tips and information on buying, storing, and adding pears to a healthful eating plan.

Tips for Selection, Storage & Preparation

Nutrition and health. Pears are an excellent source of dietary fiber. A medium-sized pear has 24% of the recommended daily allowance. Pears also have potassium; a medium-sized pear has about 190 mg. They have no saturated fat, sodium or cholesterol and are a good source of vitamin C. A medium pear has about 100 calories.

Pears make great holiday desserts. Click on the image for a tasty recipe!

How do you know when a pear is ripe? Bartlett pears change from green to yellow as they ripen. Non-Bartlett pears (Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Seckel and Forelle) don’t drastically change color when ripening. Pears ripen from the inside out, so check for ripeness by “checking the neck.” Gently press near the stem with your thumb. When it gives to gentle pressure it is ripe and ready to eat. When the pear is soft around the middle it is overripe.

Selection and storage. Choose pears that are firm to the touch and free from bruises and blemishes. If pears are ripe, they can be used immediately or refrigerated to slow down further ripening. If pears need to ripen, leave them out at room temperature for seven to 10 days. Putting pears in a paper bag will help them ripen faster, but remember to check them daily so they don’t get overripe.

Cleaning and preparing. Wash pears under running water before eating. When pears are cut up for dishes, browning is a natural process that occurs when they are exposed to the air. A mild solution of half water and half lemon juice can be brushed on cut pears to slow this process. Lightly poaching pears will also slow the browning process and is a good way to prepare them for use in salads.

Pear varieties and uses. Firmer varieties such as Bosc, Anjou or Concorde are best for poaching, baking and grilling. They have denser flesh, hold their shape better and keep their flavor. Pears not ideal for heating are Yellow Bartlett, Red Bartlett, Starkrimson and Comice, as their flavor and texture are at best when ripe and fresh.  When heated, the consistency may over soften and have reduced flavor.

Great additions to meals and side dishes. Pears are perfect for snacks, as salad toppings, additions to ice cream or yogurt and as a side dish. Pears are also great baked, poached, sautéed, roasted or grilled. They can be used in baked goods and made into preserves, jams and chutneys. Overripe pears are still tasty, just not great for serving whole or sliced. They can be used in smoothies, sauces or as a thickening agent for soups, stocks or stews.

Check out the USA Pears website at http://www.usapears.com/, which includes more pear nutrition information and recipes.

Authored by Lisa Franzen-Castle, Ph.D., RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension nutrition specialist. Healthy Bites Newsletter, http://food.unl.edu/healthy-bites-december-national-pear-month, December 2014.

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