Pears are hardly front-page news. Placed next to brightly colored citrus, reliable bananas or volumes of vegetables at the supermarket, the winter pear usually goes unnoticed.

Alas, pears suffer from an image problem. Although pears are plentiful, economical, versatile and tasty, they just aren't very exciting.But winter pears are wonderful to eat fresh, to add to a salad or to use in creating an exotic dessert.

Though related to apples, pears are a much fussier fruit. Their trees are less adaptable, and the fruits are more delicate. Pears must be picked early and ripened off the tree to achieve the perfect texture and flavor.

But since there are so many varieties of pears, it's difficult to know which variety is best for cooking and which is best for snacking.

Winter varieties include:

-Bosc - Distinguished by its symmetrical body, long tapering neck and slim stem. The skin is golden brown when ripe with a network of russeting. Fresh, creamy, full-bodied flavor makes this variety excellent for baking, cooking and eating fresh.

-Nelis - A medium to small pear, with a light network of brown russeting over a light green skin. Excellent for baking or eating fresh.

-Anjou - Nearly egg-shaped with a slight shoulder and a short stem. Its thin, edible skin covers a juicy, spicy meat. Its light-green color does not change as it ripens. Great to eat fresh or use in salads.

-Comice - This greenish-yellow fruit sometimes has a crimson blush. The plump, rounded pear is superb for snacking. Its color remains consistent through unripened and ripened states. This juicy pear has a short defined neck and stem, with a sweet flavor.

-Seckel - This bite-size pear is the smallest of all varieties. It may have a dark red blush and is perfect for snacking.

Pears, more than any other winter fruit, lend themselves to versatility. Winter pears are succulent to eat fresh, delicious to blend in salads and adventurous to cook with.

In the winter, pears can make front-page news after all.