Pears are the mild, subtle cousin of New England's favorite fall fruit, the apple. Often overlooked in favor of their shiny red counterparts, pears are just as versatile and can be roasted, poached, pickled, sliced into salads, pureed into soups, baked into homey desserts, or eaten ripe out of hand. Like apples, pears can be used in both sweet and savory preparations and are lovely with roasted chicken or pork.
Like many other tree fruits, the number of pear varieties available has diminished over the past century, and hardy varieties, like Bartletts, that ripen slowly off the tree and ship well are the dominant pears found in both supermarkets and farmers' markets. The longish green-brown Bosc pear is another well-known, slow-ripening fruit. Because of their firmness, even when ripe, Boscs are ideal for poaching and roasting. Little round Seckle pears are harder to find than familiar Boscs and Bartletts, but are great for poaching and pickling because of their uniform size and small core.
Pears from local orchards are available into November. Most are not organic. Fruit trees are notoriously susceptible to certain pests and infections but have been grown in orchards that practice integrated pest management, called IPM. The small black spots that show up on local tree fruit are not an indication of rot, says Genevieve Stillman, who runs Stillman's Greenhouses and Farm Stand with her husband, Glenn, in New Braintree.
They sell Boscs and red Bartletts at farmers' markets (check stillmansfarm.com for details). In their own kitchen, the growers use pears from two trees in their yard that "show up in photos from the 1860s," says Genevieve. She says the gnarly fruit can't be sold. But the curvy pears they bring to market are beautiful. -- LEIGH BELANGER
(Wendy Maeda / Globe staff)