There are over 5,000 pear varieties grown throughout the world, and distinctions are usually made between Asian, European and American cultivars. Asian pears are round, crunchy, and sweet fruit, quite different from what many tend to mean when we think of this word. They are, however, gaining in popularity, although their season is quite limited.
In the US, the most commonly grown variety of pears is the Bartlett. In fact, it accounts for about 70% of the US market, and the majority are grown in California, Washington and Oregon. Many never see the stores and are quickly sold to large canning companies. In fact, Americans can more of this fruit than they eat fresh. In Europe, it's less common to can the fruit, and it is often eaten fresh for dessert. Its sweetness makes an excellent contrast to sharp cheese.
The Bartlett pear actually comes in green and red varieties. The fully ripe Bartlett may be somewhat yellow, but the Red Bartlett develops its color prior to being fully ripe. Similarly, the D’Anjou, often just called the Anjou, can be either red or yellow, or like an apple. It can have a red blush when fully ripe.
Bosc pears are very different in appearance. Their skin is brown and often has a slightly grainy texture, although the flesh is sweet and smooth. They make an excellent contrast because they have an elongated top half and are less round and squat than the Bartlett and Anjou. Boscs are quite popular and generally quite easy to find in grocery stores.
The Comice, in contrast to the Bosc, is quite large and one of the more round varieties. Alternately, the Seckels are tiny fruit that literally burst with sweetness. Many people also enjoy the Royal Pear, copyrighted by Harry and Davids, a specialty foods store. While this variety is an excellent and juicy fruit, many feel the price is prohibitive.
With so many varieties, it would be difficult to name them all. For example, Gloucestershire, England, alone grows and recognizes about 100 varieties. Most people have access to this fruit, especially during the autumn months, and they are even available during the winter months, when shipped from warm growing regions.
There is some confusion exists about when to eat pears that are purchased unripe. Usually, the fruit is picked before it has completely ripened, since if it allowed to ripen on the tree, its center becomes mushy and unpleasant. Generally, unripe pears can be placed in paper bags for a few days to a few weeks in order to promote ripening from the inside out. When the fruit yields to moderate pressure from the fingertips, it is ripe and ready to eat.