Stand a Seckel pear next to a Comice, Bosc or Bartlett, and it doesn't look like much.

Stand a Seckel pear next to a Comice, Bosc or Bartlett, and it doesn't look like much.

Overlooking the small Seckel, however, means passing up the sweetest fruit of the bunch.

"It just looks like these are the little, reject pears that didn't quite make it," said Anne Root, co-owner of Medford's Eden Valley Orchards.

"Yet they're like little hidden jewels."

Identified as a separate variety in the 1700s near Philadelphia, the Seckel has roots in the Rogue Valley as long as better-known pears. But popularity of the smallest commercially grown pear has waned in recent years amid demand for bigger and bigger fruit like Harry and David's "Royal Riviera" pear, industry experts said.

"The buyers are fixated on large sizes," said Bill Eckart, executive director of the Fruit Growers League.

A relatively insignificant portion of the local harvest, Seckel production has been cut approximately in half over the past two decades, said David Sugar, professor or horticulture and plant pathology at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point.

The pear's small size makes it harder to pick and, therefore, more costly for growers. Of the region's approximately 2 million boxes of harvested pears only about 20,000 boxes are Seckels, Sugar said.

Companies still dealing in the diminutive pear know where to get the best price. Associated Fruit of Phoenix ships 95 percent of its crop to the East Coast, said sales manager Scott Martinez.

While Rogue Valley residents can purchase an entire box of Seckels from Associated Fruit's packing plant, picking up just a pound or two requires shopping at a specialty store like Southern Oregon Sales Pear Station or Harry and David's Country Village, both in Medford.

Compared with the juice of Comice or Bosc pears, which contain about 15 percent sugar, the Seckel boasts 18 percent, Sugar said. That sweetness, a crimson blush and a firmer texture make the Seckel a culinary gem.

"It's a chef's pear, if you will," Root said.

In Eden Valley's kitchen, Seckels are often peeled, poached and left to soak in brandy or white port. Dipping the whole, poached pears in chocolate is an elegant touch, Root said.

"It's small enough that it's absolutely beautiful on a plate."

Baked, the Seckel's skin takes on a subtle spiciness, Eckart said, adding that he enjoys Seckels with figs and blue cheese. Or slice the pears wafer-thin and top with cheese spread, he said.

"They're a big hit at parties."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487 or e-mail