With the apple season now underway, spare a thought for the Conference pear – a beautiful fruit that is sometimes overlooked. The first harvests are now in from orchards across Southern England.
The three main commercial varieties of UK pear are the Conference, Comice and Concorde. The Conference is the most popular pear in the UK. It is also the more slender of the bunch and is grown on a large scale in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the climate is similar.
Pears are a bit more tricky to grow and sell than apples. This is because they continue to ripen after picking and are often at their best a few days after purchase. So there is a small window to enjoy them in optimum condition. The Conference variety is popular with commercial growers because it can be happily eaten at different stages of the ripening process – from crisp and crunchy to soft and fully sweet. Here is some more info on this variety.
The skin colour has a subtle yellow tint and there is a slight russeting to the skin. The trees are mainly self-fertile, which makes them easier to grow that some other varieties. It was bred by a chap called Mr Rivers in Hertfordshire at the end of the 19th Century. You can find out more about the history of growing pears in the UK here.
Uses in the Kitchen
Pears are highly versatile and will liven up any dessert menu. You can bake or poach the fruit. Try using alcohol such as red wine or rum to add flavour. Roasted pear is a classy addition to savoury roasts, too, such as duck, game or pork. Try adding species such as star anise and cinnamon for a Middle Eastern twist. Pear also works well in salads, especially with blue cheese and bitter leaves such as chicory.