For some reason, I have never been fond of pears. I find them mealy, gritty, and dry. But, Poached Pears is on the list in the curriculum I'm working through, so, in the middle of winter after a 30-cm (1 foot) dump of snow, I went to the local grocery story to find the perfect Bosc (pronounced BAHSK) pears for poaching. They happened to be from Oregon or Washington (none were available from Provence, unfortunately). This is definitely not the 100-mile diet!
Did you know that pears do not ripen successfully on the tree? Is this true or just the marketing of a big conglomerate trying to sell their pears worldwide? Supposedly, pears that ripen on the tree are gritty.
When you’re buying a pear, the mantra is: “Check the neck”. Since pears ripen from the inside out, if you check the flesh near the stem, it should be soft to the touch. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” Sadly, I must have missed these 10 minutes in my lifetime.
If the pears are not ripe yet, store them in a warm place (not the refrigerator) such as a fruit bowl or paper bag until ripe. Store ripe pears in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
Bosc pears, which have a beautiful russet skin, are firm and work best for poaching. Anjou pears also work well for poaching, and are named after the Angers region in central France. There’s a gorgeous picture of several types of pears found at this link.
With the pears selected, I next had to find the right wine to use for the poaching liquid. I've read that the wine you use should be good enough to drink. That’s not usually a problem for me! There are many different wines you can use, but the recipe in Le Cordon Bleu at Home suggested using a Burgundy wine.
For this dish, I wanted to try poaching some of the pears in a red wine and some in a white wine so I bought one of each, but both were from the Burgundy region of France.
Poaching is a gentle cooking method where the food simmers over low heat. As the French chefs like to say, “Goutez, goutez, goutez.” (Taste, taste, taste.) If the poaching liquid is delicious, your poached pears will be too.
Poaching time can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour depending on the ripeness of the fruit and the type of pear you choose. The pears I bought weren’t as ripe as they should have been, so the poaching time took around 45 minutes.
Watch a Pro
Here is a link to a video showing how to make Poached Pears.
Recipe for Poires au vin rouge adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home
24 prunes, pitted
6 small peaches, peeled
6 small pears, peeled
½ bottle dry red Burgundy wine
½ bottle dry white Burgundy wine
2 cups (500 mL) water, divided
6 ounces (125 mL) red currant jelly
6 ounces (125 mL) ice wine jelly (or apple jelly)
12 peppercorns, divided
1 stick cinnamon, broken in 2
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
Mint leaves, for garnish (optional)
Cover the prunes with cold water and soak for about 20 minutes.
Prepare a large bowl of acidulated water (water that has vinegar, lemon, or lime juice in it to prevent the fruit from discoloring) for the peaches and pears. After the fruit is peeled, the water must completely cover the fruit to prevent discoloration.
Peel the peaches by either blanching them for 30-60 seconds or using a vegetable peeler. Put in bowl of acidulated water.
Peel the pears using a vegetable peeler. Trim the base so that it can stand. Remove the core from the bottom using a melon baller or the tip of a vegetable peeler. Put in bowl of acidulated water.
Prepare poaching liquid:
In one large saucepan, combine the red wine, half the peppercorns, half a cinnamon stick, and half the vanilla extract. In a separate large saucepan, combine the white wine, half the peppercorns, half a cinnamon stick, and half the vanilla extract. Simmer both mixtures. Then add the red currant jelly to the red wine mixture, and the ice wine jelly to the white wine mixture. Bring both mixtures to a boil and boil 5 minutes.
Add half the prunes to one pan and the other half to the other. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Add half the peaches and half the pears to each pan and cover with a circle of parchment paper. Simmer until tender. Use a cake tester to check for doneness. Check inside the core so that you don’t pierce the outside of the pear.
Cool in the poaching liquid. Refrigerate overnight. Serve either warm or cold. You can store the leftover syrup in the refrigerator or freezer.
Note: You can make this dessert a day or two in advance so that the poaching liquid has time to penetrate the flesh. If you eat it too soon, the center of the pear will still be white and less flavorful.
This dish can be prepared in so many ways. Here is a very long list of the possibilities!
Fruit Variations: You could poach other fruits, such as apples, apricots, bananas, or nectarines.
Flavor Variations: You can change the poached pears with different flavors, such as bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, Cognac, crème de cassis, dried lavender, fresh gingerroot, Grand Marnier, honey, lemon balm, licorice, orange zest, rosewater, star anise, unblanched almonds, vanilla bean or a combination.
Poaching Variations: You can poach pears in a variety of liquids, such as champagne, espresso, grenadine, Muscadet, Orvieto wine, plum wine, port, or even tea.
Serving Variations: You can serve poached pears with any of the following (as long as it matches the flavor combination selected for the fruit): chocolate sauce, crème anglaise, crème chantilly, custard, ice cream, orange sauce, sorbet, or zabaglione (sabayon). You can also serve them with ladyfingers, Madeleines, or pound cake. The pears can be served whole, cut in half, or cut in a fan shape.
Other Variations: You can fill the core of the pears with ice cream, whipping cream, flavored whipping cream, or mascarpone.
Garnish Options: You can garnish poached pears with candied orange peel or mint. If the leaves are not still attached to the pears, you can use fresh bay leaves or leaves from another fruit.
This is a simple, fresh way of serving pears. The pears taste buttery, spicy, and comforting. It’s such a versatile dish, and is a nice, light way to end a heavy meal. Although pears have never been my favorite fruit, poached pears could become a dessert to impress dinner guests.
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Running total: $193.92 + $25.21 = $219.13
(Who would have thought that this dessert would cost so much. I guess it's due to the wine involved and maybe the fact that I don't own an orchard! )
Butter used so far: 4 pounds, 19.5 tablespoons