A Pair of Pears

‘Walnut And Pears You Plant For Your Heirs’ – Old English Proverb

I have a delectable inkling that Pomona, the goddess of fruitful abundance in ancient Rome, may have graced our little garden in Sussex this year, for the pear trees, young and old dripped with fruit. 

After weeks of gentle anticipation, keeping daily watch as the fruits plumped and swelled to perfect proportions, my patience rapidly escalated to a fever pitch, and one morning, dew still in the air, I could bear it no longer; out I went out to check them. Squeezing the top on the pear ever so gently, feeling for a tender softness, it promptly plopped off the branch into my hand. There are only ten minutes in a pears life when it is perfect to eat, or so says transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that ten minutes starts the moment they fall into your lap. 

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What could be sweeter and more delightful? A more immortal, timeless pleasure surely does not exist, than plucking a pear straight from the tree to devour for breakfast. There may be no ten minutes more perfect than those when the pears are finally ripe. Once those wondrous ten minutes are up, or you’ve had your fill of fresh pears, it’s time to purpose the rest. 

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A pear’s nature as a leisurely grower necessitates one to think ahead to future generations; as the old saying goes “Walnut and Pears You Plant For Your Heirs”. Happily, I’m one of life’s planners; I like to plan ahead- albeit to a less distant future. Any pears left over, which are smaller or harder may be gently poached and preserved in brandy to be served up later with some whipped cream in the months of less abundance. 

For another satisfying and somewhat more imminent dessert, I turned to my frangipane tart recipe and bedecked it with pears instead of plums.

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The old English proverb also conjures up a most tantalising coupling; the deep tangy nuttiness of the walnut paired (pun intended) with the mellow fragrance of the pear make a harmonious match indeed. You could serve it up as the classic pear, walnut and blue cheese salad or do as I do and go for an all the more naughtier and nuttier walnut meringue cake with a sticky toffee pear centre.

Pears in Brandy

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons
  • 20 small firm pears
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 200 g sugar
  • 750 ml of brandy

You’ll need 3 Mason jars- at 1 litre each.

Method

Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water, and add the juice of the lemons. Peel pears as carefully and smoothly as possible, leaving stems attached. Place pears in water as they are peeled.

Combine sugar, cinnamon sticks, and 3 and a half litres of water in a large saucepan. Drain pears, and add them to the pan. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until just tender when pierced with a knife, 10 to 30 minutes, depending on size and ripeness.

Remove pears gently from the liquid, and divide evenly among three mason jars.

Raise the heat under the pot to high, and cook liquid until reduced to 500ml cups, which will take roughly 50 minutes. Remove from heat; strain the liquid through a sieve into a bowl. Divide the liquid evenly among the jars, and add about 250ml of brandy to each, or enough to cover the pears. Allow jars to cool, and screw on lids.

Save for the bleak midwinter.

Walnut and Sticky Toffee Pear Meringue Cake

Ingredients

  • 140g shelled walnuts
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 250g caster sugar
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp white wine vinegar

For the filling

  • 350ml double cream,
  • 4 small firm pears
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50 g of butter
  • 125g Light Soft Brown Sugar
  • ½ tsp of mixed spice
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5. Lightly grease two 20cm sandwich tins and then line the bases with non-stick baking parchment.

Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 10 minutes, then tip onto a clean tea towel and rub well together to remove the skins. Don’t worry if there are little pieces left on, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it will add to the texture and flavour. Grind the nuts in a food processor.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar slowly, a spoonful at a time, whisking well between each addition. Whisk until the mixture is very stiff, stands in peaks, and all the sugar has been added. Whisk in the vanilla extract and wine vinegar then fold in the prepared nuts. Divide the mixture between the tins and level the surface with a palette knife.

Bake for 30–40 minutes, but no longer. The top of the meringue will be crisp and the inside like a marshmallow. Turn out of the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the filling, peel, core and slice the pears. Warm the mixed spice in a frying pan for a couple of minutes until fragrant, add the butter and Golden Syrup and sugar gently, for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Slowly add the cream and then add the pears, and cook them in the sticky toffee for a few minutes, turning them over to cover them. 

Whisk the cream until thick. Place the cream on the lower meringue, place the pears gently on the cream and drizzle the rest of the sticky toffee syrup over and sandwich the meringues together. Dust with icing sugar.

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