According to Nigel Slater: “Like a snowflake, the perfectly ripe pear is a fleeting thing.” For Eddie Izzard: “Pears can fuck off cos they’re gorgeous little beasts but they’re ripe for half an hour and you’re never there, they’re like rock or mush.”
Solution? Poach them in some sweet liquid, preferably alcoholic, and you won’t be defeated by one of our most important heritage fruits. One of my strongest childhood memories is of the pear tree in our garden, reached only by means of a long shaded path between two buildings, splayed on the wall and laden with bulbous fruit.
I didn’t know that if left to ripen on the tree, a pear tends to become gritty and dessert varieties are best left to soften slightly on the tree before fully ripening. Once again, it is thought that those over-achieving Romans brought the pear over but that the actual origins of the genus are probably in Central Asia.
With a resurgence of perry (and some of the best is produced at Burrow Hill near Martock in Somerset), this stubbornly ripening fruit is appearing more frequently in farmers’ markets with some of the older varieties reappearing. And who could resist, with names such as Swan’s Egg, Beurre Superfin, Moonglow, Jargonelle or Pitmaston Duchesse. A relation to the quince, hawthorn and brambles, the pear digs deeper into the taste thesaurus than apples – musky, winey with occasional overtones of honey, they are well worth the careful wait.
Pears in red wine have always been a dinner party staple for me, absurdly little effort for the delicious outcome, can be prepared in advance, no room for error and with double cream, they make a luxurious fresh finish. But I could not resist the idea of trying pears in ginger wine. I drank a lot of this in my years at St Andrews coupled with whiskey and known as a whiskey Mac (created during the time of the Raj by a Colonel MacDonald according to Crabbie’s). Both recipes are detailed below and both make your kitchen smell of Christmas.
Pears, ironically, can pair up with a lot of things: pears and chocolate, pears and blue cheese, pears and pork, pears and cinnamon, pears and sweet wine. So get pearing while you can, they won’t be around for long.
Ingredients for pears in ginger wine:
- 4 big or 6 smaller Conference pears (doesn’t matter if unripe)
- 300ml ginger wine
- Half a tsp ground cinnamon
- 50g caster sugar
Bring the wine to a boil in a large pan with the sugar until the sugar disolves, add the pears and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the pears are soft, basting as they cook. Take them out with a slotted spoon and boil down the remaining liquid until it is syrupy in consistency. Pour over the pears and serve (with double cream).
Ingredients for Pears in Red Wine
- A quarter of a pint of red wine
- 2oz caster sugar
- 4 pears
- thick pouring or whipped cream
Put the wine and sugar into a large pan and bring slowly to the boil until the sugar dissolves. Lie the pears (in halves) flat in the saucepan and add a pinch of cinammon. Cover and cook for half an hour.
Try the alternative BBC Good Food version of poached saffron pears.