There are over 5,000 varieties of pears grown across the globe. The local grocer carries maybe 5 if you are lucky so rather than detailing every pear that trees can grow the focus will be turned to pears in general. Pears are an interesting fruit in that they ripen after being picked. This means that buying an unripe pear is more of a test in patience than of fruit squeezing ability. Pears should smell fragrant and be as blemish and and bruise free as possible. Pears ripen from the inside out so a good test of ripeness is to gently press near the stem of the pear and feel for how much it gives. If it is hard and you are not willing to wait a few days it is time to cook them. If it is soft and you are hungry wash it up and make it happen. The more common types of pears that might grace the shelves of your local grocer are D'Anjou, Asian, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Seckel. The following are descriptions from the Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.
D'Anjou: A large winter pear with firm flesh and yellowish-green skin that is often blushed with red. It's sweet and succelent and is delicious both cooked and raw. The D'Anjou is available in most regions from October through Midwinter.
Asian Pear: There are over 100 varieties (most grown in Japan) of this firm, amazingly juicy pear whose season is late summer through early fall. In size and color, they range from huge and golden brown to tiny and yellow-green. In general, ripe Asian pears (also called Chinese pears and apple pears) are quite firm to the touch, crunchy to the bite (unlike pears we're used to), lightly sweet and drippingly juicy. The most common Asian pear in the United States is the Twentieth Century (also know as nijisseiki), which is large, round and green to yellow in color. Ripe Asian pears should be stored in the refrigerator.
Bartlett: This large bell-shaped fruit has a smooth, yellow-green skin that is sometimes blushed with red. The Bartlett's flesh is sweet and juicy. It's generally available from late July through October and is delicious either cooked or raw.
Bosc: A large winter pear with a slender neck and a russeted yellow skin, the Bosc is available from October through April. It has an agreeable sweet-tart flavor and is delicious fresh or cooked. The Bosc holds its shape well when baked or poached.
Comice: [kuh-MEES] This large, exquisite pear has a meltingly smooth, sweet flesh and fruit-filled fragrance. It ranges in color from greenish-yellow to yellow blushed with red. It's available from October to January and is best eaten uncooked.
Seckel: [SEHK-uhl] It's a small russet-colored fruit with a sweet, spicy flavor. The Seckel's firm flesh makes it excellent for both cooking and canning but some people find it too crisp for out-of-hand eating. It's available late August through December.
The following shows how to get a pear ready for most types of cooking. Most poaching recipes ask to keep the pear intact and preparation of that will be shown in subsequent posts.