Bartlett's are the U.S. consumer's preferred variety, with nearly 90 percent of consumers preferring Bartlett's over any other pear. Pears are exceedingly nutritious, and Bartlett pears, California's most popular pear, are an excellent source of dietary fiber with 4 grams per pear, plus potassium, Vitamin C, and selenium, which is thought to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, as well as lutein, a plant chemical that helps protect your eyes. Additionally a pear has only 100 calories, no cholesterol and is virtually fat free. But best of all, they taste good, and, as French women know, one of the secrets to not getting fat is to eat food that tastes good so that one enjoys every single bite of a small portion.
Pears are often purchased before they are fully ripe, but the consumer can finish the ripening process by putting green, firm Bartlett pears in a bowl kept at room temperature. There, they will slowly ripen and color to perfection. Green Bartlett pears will turn yellow and soften within 4 or 5 days, while those already turning will take only 2 to 3 days. Once the pears have ripened, they can be stored in the refrigerator for almost a week to keep them fresh.
An incredible taste for pears dates back to ancient times. The alluring fruit even captured the praise of the well-known Greek poet, Homer (8th century B.C.), who referred to pears as a "gift of the gods." Evidently, the Romans agreed and proceeded to use grafting techniques to develop more than fifty varieties. They also introduced the cultivated pear to other parts of Europe. Since then, hundreds of varieties have been developed, and people have continued to benefit from the good taste of these early connoisseurs.
The Bartlett Pear variety originated in Berkshire, England, in the 17th century, by a schoolmaster named John Stair. Stair sold some of his pear tree cuttings to a horticulturist named Williams, who further developed the variety and renamed it after himself. After pear seedlings crossed the Atlantic with the early colonists, the Williams pear found fame and fortune in 1812, under the tutelage of nurseryman, Enoch Bartlett, of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Bartlett, unaware of the pear's true name, distributed it under his own name. Ever since, the pear has been known as the Bartlett in the United States, but is still referred to as the Williams pear, in other parts of the world.
Bartlett pear trees eventually came out West in the covered wagons of 49ers heading for the Great California Gold Rush.