This week's look at what's new, bountiful or mysterious in the produce aisles:
Their brethren have modestly colored skins of light green, pale yellow and dusky brown, but it's the fiery red-skinned pear varieties now in the produce section that catch our eye.
They remind us of the flame-colored leaves on the trees, of the fires soon to be crackling in our fireplaces. They remind us that even though the colorful fruits of summer are gone, there are still some brilliant splashes of color to be added to our fall menus.
Scarlet-skinned pears are relatively new. The oldest variety -- red Bartletts -- are only 20 years old. Most of the other reds, like Red Anjou and the brilliantly colored Starkrimson, have been developed only in the past 10 years, says Kevin Moffitt, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest, a trade organization of Oregon and Washington pear growers. Those two states supply nearly 85 percent of the country's fresh pears.
But the reds are catching on with consumers, says Moffitt, particularly as red pear production increases. A decade ago, the red varieties represented only 1 percent of the total fresh pear crop in the United States. This year they're expected to reach about 7 percent.
HOW TO SELECT: "Check the neck" is the catchy phrase that Northwest pear growers tell consumers. To tell if a pear is ripe, gently press the neck, or near the stem. If it gives slightly, the pear is ripe. Because pears ripen from the core outward, if a pear is soft in the middle, it's overripe.
HOW TO STORE: Ripe pears can keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Firm pears can be ripened at room temperature.
HOW TO USE THEM: Other than eating them out of hand, red pears make a vibrant addition to a fall salad. Combine slices with arugula, walnuts and shavings of Parmesan cheese. Toss with a lemon vinaigrette. Or bake sliced pears as a topping for a simple yellow cake. Make cake batter and pour into a 9-inch square pan. Then thinly slice a red pear and toss with 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg or cinnamon. Arrange the fruit on top of the batter. Sprinkle with a couple teaspoons of sugar and bake the cake as directed.
-- Candy Sagon