Imagine a pear. Chances are good that a Bartlett came to mind. At one time, Bartletts were so popular this single variety made up 80% of the entire U.S. pear harvest and today still account for roughly 70% of all pears grown in North America. This is the pear sold canned as cocktails, stewed halved in syrup, or pureed in baby food. It’s the Bartlett’s heavily aromatic, sweet vanilla flavor that we think of as classic “pear” taste. They’re also the signature pear used in making Poire Williams, a colorless brandy sold with a whole, unsliced pear inside the bottle. This achieved by placing the bottle over the infant fruit and securing it in the tree to allow the fruitlet to grow and mature, inside the bottle.
- A medium-sized Bartlett has 112 calories
- Good source of vitamin C and fiber
Shouldn’t the brandy be called “Poire Bartlett” rather than “Poire Williams?” Bartlett pears have actually changed names numerous times during their life and migration around the world, and today there are over 150 synonyms for the Bartlett pear.
Bartletts were first discovered in the yard of an English schoolmaster in Aldermaston, England, whose name was either Mr. Stair or Mr. Wheeler, depending on the source. Rhyming fanatics claim it was originally called Stair’s Pear. In any case, the pear was obtained by Mr. Richard William’s nursery in Turnham Green, who exported saplings in 1799 to Mr. James Carter, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who planted them on the property of Thomas Brewer. It’s unclear what happened to Brewer, but years later a merchant named Enoch Bartlett acquired the land and the unidentified pear trees. The pears were so delicious Bartlett began distributing cuttings to his friends and neighbors, who called them “Bartlett’s Pear.” By the time the horticulturists realized that Bartletts were really Williams pears, around 1828, the damage was done and Stair’s Pear would be immortalized in America and Canada as the Bartlett. It still goes by the name of Williams in Europe and Australia.
Today, commercial Bartlett orchards are being replaced by the more cold-hardy and later-ripening D’Anjou pears, which fare better in storage.
How to Choose A Bartlett:
Bartlett’s have thin, pale green skin that yellows as the fruit ripen, making it one of the few pears that changes color with maturity. This means you can often identify a ripe Bartlett by sight. This thin skin also nicks and bruises easily, and the fruit can turn mealy if kept long in storage or allowed to become overripe. By the time a Bartlett feels soft to the touch, it is too ripe. A perfectly ripe Bartlett should be firm, slightly golden in hue, have a rich aroma, and give slightly around the stem.
When to look for Bartlett: Bartlett’s are known as Summer Pears, and can ripen as early as July. The majority of the harvest is in late August.
Best Uses For Bartlett: Bartlett’s have long dominated canned and otherwise processed pears, so use Bartlett when your aiming for the classic pear flavor. If prepared while slightly under ripe, they hold up well to baking, stewing and canning, and when ripe and soft they are a luscious snack simply eaten out of hand.