A guide to pears in France, a familiar French expression using pears, varieties and best pears for cooking/baking plus easy pear recipes - including our favourite French desserts, two of them classics from Paris.
French Pear Season
Summer pears: July-August. (For example, Williams, Guyot);
Autumn/Winter pears: August-April (e.g. Comice, Beurré Hardy, Conférence, Passe Crassane).
History of Pears in France
Pears came to France in the 16th Century and became popular thanks to Louis XIV's botanist, La Quintinye, who grew many varieties at Le Potager du Roi in Versailles.
According to the French Ministry of Agriculture, 224 000 tons of pears were harvested in 2022.
Poiré is a drink prepared like its more popular apple Cidre sister in Brittany and Normandy but made with fresh pear juice.
French Pear Varieties
Since the Romans, they already discovered about 50 varieties of pears. Today there are over 2000 varieties of pears in France, mostly grown in 3 regions: Centre Val-de-Loire, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes Côte-d'Azur.
However, only a few varieties are widely available at the farmers' markets and in supermarkets. The most popular being:
- la Conférence, Williams, Comice (la Doyenné de Comice), Bosc (Beurre Bosc), la Passe-Crassane, Guyot (la Docteur Jules Guyot), Beurré Hardy and Alexandrine.
Historical varieties grown at the Potager du Roi in Versailles include Angelys, Bon-Chrétien (translated as 'Good Christian') Williams and Cuisse-Madame ('Woman's Thigh'). Ah, les français!
The Conference Pear was born in the UK, so named after the National Pear Conference in Britain in 1885.
Pears have a particular texture - they have a slight sandy crunch due to rock cells. Only quinces have the same characteristic.
Pears are rich in vitamin B9 and best consumed on their own at the table to keep their vitamin content.
How Best to Prepare and Store Pears
Preparing pears: like apples once peeled, it's best to cover pears in lemon juice to avoid the fragile fruit naturally browning.
Store pears out of the fridge (a tip picked up at le potager du roi).
Leave at room temperature for 2-3 days but if winter pears hard, can last longer stored in a cool dark place.
French Saying with Pears
There are two slang expressions in French, so I'd recommend not to use them in good company!
"Couper la poire en deux"literally to cut the pear in two, means to split the difference, reach a compromise or meet half way.
"Je suis une poire, ou quoi ?" or "C'est marqué Poire sur ma tête ?"Familiar/colloquial expression meaning Do you think I'm a mug or stupid?
Equally, French people say this pointing to their forehead, as if branded stupid
(literally translated as 'Am I pear or what?')
Best French Pears To Use for Cooking or Baking
- Pear Williams - soft skin, sweet and juicy. Medium sized.
- Comice - sweet and juicy; great for poaching for its shape and in pâtisserie
- Conference - as the above but skin is thicker and its shape more elongated. Has a little acidity which makes this a great all-rounder.
What Goes Well with Pears? French Pear Recipes
A collection of recipes using French pears and ideas of how to best eat them to enjoy the season. Pears pair particularly well (say that fast!) with:
- blue cheese
- blackcurrant, blackberry and blueberry
- walnuts, hazelnuts
- chocolate desserts
Enjoy raw pear in this Roquefort Salad. As pears pair extremely well with blue cheese, this is an excellent combination with the King of French Cheeses. Fabulous with walnuts and apple during the Autumn and Winter months.
Cooked in this delicious dessert with toasted oats, enjoy this pear, chocolate and hazelnut crumble with extra chocolate for a most comforting, yet low in sugar, dessert.
A French classic dessert is this Pear and Almond Tart, la tarte Bourdaloue. Created on rue Bourdaloue in Paris, this is a real Parisian treat.
Another Parisian classic dessert is the one created by chef Auguste Escoffier in 1864. Escoffier poaches pears in a vanilla syrup and coats it in warm chocolate sauce with vanilla ice cream. It's name? La Poire Belle Hélène, named after Jacques Offenbach's comic opera, la Belle-Hélène.
More poached for dessert! Poached pears in Vanilla and Coffee is my original recipe initially inspired by French chef, Anne-Sophie Pic who made a dessert like this with blackcurrant (cassis). Try this bold flavour association with coffee!
This French apple tart with puff pastry is also great made with sliced pears (Conference or Williams). Sprinkle with chocolate chips and it's a quick dessert.
Added slices of a pear are particularly delicious in this chocolate and ground hazelnut variation of the traditional Galette des rois recipe. The French king cake made with puff pastry is traditionally filled with almond cream but follow the instructions for my variations and you'll discover that the pear and chocolate will become a new favourite.