Unlike apples, cherries and in fact the vast majority of other fruits, the European pear, also known as the common pear, (Pyrus communis) doesn’t ripen on the tree, at least not from the point of view of the consumer. If you leave it long enough for the outside to soften, it will be too ripe inside, with a mushy consistency. You can use overripe pears in cooking, but you wouldn’t want to eat them fresh.
Moreover, you can’t rely on the pear’s appearance to tell you when it’s ready to harvest. True enough, most varieties change color at least a bit as maturity approaches, but many are still green or only somewhat yellowish when ripe. And even if the fruit becomes flushed with red, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ready to harvest.
Nor can you solely rely on a calendar date. Some pears ripen as early as August, but most in September or October, more rarely in November … but the date will vary according not only to your climate, but to the weather starting from the time the tree first bloomed the previous spring.
To know if a pear is truly ready to be harvested, hold the branch in one hand and the fruit in the other, then lift it upwards from its hanging position as you twist very gently. If the pear remains firmly attached, it’s not ready to harvest. If it comes off easily, get out a few baskets: it’s time to get at it!
After the Harvest
But the European pear is not yet ready to eat, even when it’s ready to harvest. It will still be too hard and astringent. It simply doesn’t ripen on the tree! Instead, place it on a shelf, preferably in the dark, or in a paper bag, and store it at room temperature for a week or two until it does soften up. Then it will finally be ready to eat.
There is even a term for allowing a pear to soften until it’s edible: it’s called bletting.
Asian Pears: Different Rules Apply
The above information applies only to the European pear (P. communis), with its oblong shape, wider at the base than the top. The Asian pear (P. pyrifolia), round as an apple, ripens on the tree just like most fruits do.