Pears are one of the rare fruits that do not ripen while on the tree. Instead, pears are harvested and allowed to ripen at room temperature. Whether you need to soften a pear because it’s not ripe enough or you want to use it in a recipe that calls for a soft pair, boiling does a sufficient job. How you boil it depends on what you’re using it for. No matter what your intention, start with a firm pear -- it will hold up better in boiling.
Boiling softens the flesh of a pear and makes it mushy enough for a smooth puree. To make baby food, boil a peeled pear in water until the flesh is fork tender. Run it through a mill or food processor, adding as much water as needed to get the right consistency. For a sweet, fresh puree, halve and core a pear, but leave the skin on. Boil pears until soft and puree until they are smooth. Add lemon juice, sugar or cinnamon for flavor.
Turn pears into compotes -- fruits preserved in syrup -- and serve over cake or ice cream. Core and chop pears, then cook them over medium heat until the flesh of the pear begins to fall apart. Add seasonings and other ingredients, such as cinnamon, nuts and raisins. Make spiced pears by boiling them in water with a spice bag of cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Serve spiced pears alone or with cake, ice cream or cookies.
Boil pears to create jams, butters and syrups. For these products, boil pears along with spices and an acidic ingredient to prevent the fruit from browning during storage. Orange juice, lemon juice or vinegar work are effective.
While boiling a pear certainly softens it, it can make the flesh of the fruit too soft for certain recipes. For firmer fruit, poach pears in vanilla-scented water and serve them with yogurt or granola. Grilling pears softens the fruits while adding a smoky flavor. Serve grilled pears in tarts, pies or alone. Baked pears with cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg work well on cheese boards and in salads.