Availability: August thru January
Source: United States
General Information: The Seckel Pear is 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.
Nutritional: Pears contain a small amount of Vitamin A and C, as well as some potassium and riboflavin. The vitamin C is generally concentrated in the skin. They are also a good source of food fiber, which includes pectin, gums, cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignins. These are found in the sclerenchyma cells that make up the gritty particles in the pear's flesh. Most fruits and vegetables become softer after they are picked because their pectic enzymes begin to dissolve the pectin in their cell walls. With pears, this reaction takes place if the fruit is left on the tree to ripen, which explains why tree-ripened pears often taste mushy. The best tasting pears are ones that are picked immature and allowed to ripen in storage.
Applications: Because of their small size, Seckels can easily be overshadowed by the larger varieties. However, it's their size which makes them a perfect choice for certain uses:
Snack-sized Seckels are a perfect addition to lunch boxes and are appreciated by children who love their extremely sweet flavor.
Seckels are small enough to be canned whole. Jars of "baby-pear" Seckels are charming as gifts.
As a plate garnish, a small half Seckel pear is attractive.
History: First cultivated by the Phoenicians and the Romans, pears became a royal delicacy for ancient Persian kings. By medieval times in Italy, there were more than 200 varieties being cultivated. By the 17th century, and inspired by Louis XIV's passion for fruit and vegetables, the French were growing over 300 different varieties. The introduction of espaliered trees, whose fruits ripen more evenly and were not so blown about in orchards, helped promote the growing of fine pears in the Paris region. Pear breeders were particularly active in the 16th century. At its end, two manuscripts detailed the fruits that were served to the vegetarian Grand Duke Cosimo III of Florence, and listed 209 and 232 different varieties, respectively, which appeared in that region alone. In 1640, Britain had a mere sixty-four varieties; but, by 1842, this number had increased to over 700.