Last week we went to a fruit exhibition at “Olde Ras”, a conservation orchard and a museum of old varieties in Doesburg, about an hour drive from where we live. Sebastiaan took some convincing because unlike me he thinks there have already been more than enough garden visits and fruit tastings this fall. But when we got there, he was quite happy with the opportunity to taste unknown apples and pears.
He pronounced the “Doesburgse Wijpeer” his new favorite and charmed the lady behind the counter into selling him one for 50 cents even though they were not for sale.
Because not all pears could be tasted, I picked some favorites based on superficial attributes such as looks and names (a dangerous thing, I know). I especially liked the red-skinned varieties such as this “Karmozijnpeer”
or this “Kerstboompeer” (“Christmas Tree Pear”), which, as I’ve learned since, also has red tinted flesh:
But my all-round favorite was this tiny round pear whimsically called “Zwijnenkeutel peer” or “Wild Boar Turd Pear” in English. The note next to it said the pears van be soaked in rum, then dipped in chocolate and eaten as candy.
I’ll get on with that as soon as I can buy a tree, find a spot to plant it and get it to bear fruit.
Meanwhile, I made this dish of poached pears in a saffron and cardamom scented syrup which was pretty delicious, too, and did not require unobtainable pear varieties to make. The recipe comes from Sarah Raven who in turn adapted it from Darina Allen. It is very fragrant and light, quite the opposite of the usual poaching pears in red wine with cinnamon.
The recipe called for 200 g sugar, which I found rather excessive for an already sweet fruit and reduced it by half. My friend Bea of the Hungarian Pantry went even further and when serving the pears with porridge for breakfast used but a tablespoon of sugar. You can do as you please, but: less sugar means a less syrupy consistency, which is why at the end I take the pears out and boil the poaching liquid down a bit.
As our consumption of saffron increases (as of today there are no less than two recipes featuring saffron in the archives!) I began to wonder (as I am wont to) whether it wouldn’t be worthwhile to grow our own. The saffron threads are the stigmas of saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) and since it takes the stigmas of about 150 flowers to yield 1 gram, it is no wonder the spice is so costly.
But then I remembered that I had already I attempted growing saffron some years ago. I’d ordered the crocus bulbs from an organic nursery and then forgot to plant them. Because bulbs store enough energy inside the bulb to grow stems, leaves and even to flower, when I later opened the paper bag I found out my bulbs had grown, flowered and subsequently shriveled.
Not a success but I cannot say it was the plant’s fault. Maybe next time…
Poached pears with saffron and cardamom
Adapted from Sarah Raven: In Season: Cooking with Vegetables and Fruits
450 ml (2 cups) water
100 g (½ cup) cane sugar
6 cardamom pods
¼ tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 – 6 pears peeled, halved and cored
Put water, sugar, spices and lemon juice in a large heavy-bottom pan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Put in the pear halves and simmer gently until they are completely tender. This will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the type of pear and its ripeness. Turn the pears after about 10 minutes.
When the pears are tender, take them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Boil the remaining liquid rapidly for about 5 minutes to reduce it into a syrupy consistency. Let cool and store the pears in the syrup in the fridge. They are best eaten very cold.