Known as butter fruit in some parts of the world, the pear is one of the oldest fruits known to man, dating back 35 to 40 centuries. There are more than 5,000 varieties; the most common in North America are creamy oval Anjous, juicy yellow Bartletts, crisp russet Boscs and blushingly sweet Comices. Pears are best eaten fresh but can also be baked, poached, grilled or dried.
Go ahead and pick a green one, because pears ripen best once they're off the tree. You can't always rely on colour since the Bartlett's doesn't change, so choose fruit with smooth, clear skin that yields slightly when gently squeezed in your palm. A loose stem indicates ripeness, but softness around the middle may be a sign of an overripe fruit, since pears ripen from the inside out.
Pears are highly perishable when ripe, so keep unwashed ripe fruit in the fridge. Store unripe fruit in a bowl or paper bag at room temperature, but check them daily. Pears produce elthylene, a compound that helps fruit to ripen faster, so don't store them near unripe bananas, peppers, eggplant, unripe kiwis or squash. Avoid storing them near onions and potatoes because they can absorb these odours as well.
Pears tend to be one of the least allergenic fruits, which make them ideal as a baby's first fruit and for people with allergy sensitivities. One medium pear packs 100 calories and is a good source of fibre and potassium. Pear skin is rich in vitamin C as well as hydroxy-cinnamic acid, an antioxidant that may help prevent gastroenteritis and colon cancer -- so wash it well and eat up!