British pear orchards have become much smaller in recent years, even though locally grown pears are considered the world's best for delicacy of flavour. There are more than 3000 varieties grown in the world, although around 100 are grown commercially.
Most varieties are at their best during autumn and winter, but Asian pear, nashi has a summer season and is notable for its juicy and crisp flesh. It's also rounder and squatter in shape.
A round-up of popular pear varieties
COMICE pears have a deliciously buttery taste, and are particularly good on their own or accompanied wedges of Stilton cheese.
WILLIAMS' originally came from France and have a juicy and flavoursome flesh. They make good table pears and are used in making the French pear liqueur, Poires William.
CONFERENCE pears have a long elongated body and firm almost grainy texture, They hold their shape well when poached and are especially suitable for making pears in red wine.
ANJOU, A red skin blush and sweet flavour make these pears good for the table. They're especially popular in America.
ROCHA was first grown in Portugal. Its firm texture, and sweet, juicy flavour makes it a good table pear and an ideal choice for cooking.
PACKHAMS come from Australia. It's a yellow-skinned largish pear with a creamy texture and a juicy musky flavour.
IN THE KITCHEN
Great in desserts, cooked and pureed pears make an interesting addition to buttery mashed veggies such as carrots, pumpkins and squash. For an appealing spicy flavour, add finely chopped stem ginger.
Try combining the sweetness of pears with slightly bitter salad leaves - radicchio, rocket and watercress. They work particularly well with blue or Brie cheese.
Pear and chocolate also work well - for an indulgent treat, serve poached pears, drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Dried pear slices make a healthy in-between meal nibble.
Pears and caramel make a great combination - for a quick pudding, fry pear chunks in hot butter for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle over sugar to sweeten, turn the heat up high, and fry briskly until the sugar caramelises. Serve straight from the pan with scoops of ice cream or lashings of cream.
It's quite tricky to tell when pears are ripe - the best way is to test for a slight tenderness around the stem area.
Pears ripen from the core outwards, it's an idea to buy them when they're slightly hard for eating, and let them ripen at room temperature for a few days.