When we bought our garden, there were two mature trees there: one big hazel and an even bigger pear tree. We tried to find out what variety it was, but all the answer we got was ‘probably a cooker’. We did a little maintenance, removed suckers, cut the weeds under the tree and then waited patiently. In spring, the tree flowered profusely and several months later, we finally got to taste the fruits and found out that the tree was ‘Conference’, an old, but still widely grown variety. And as luck would have it, it is also the favourite pear variety of my children.
But the tree is huge and the harvest was overwhelming. Because it is some 8 meters tall, too tall for us to reach the top branches, most of the fruit fell when deliciously ripe and was not suitable for keeping. We did our best, ate lots, gave lots away, made pear-cakes and pear jams and I even tried my hand at making a shelf-stable pear butter. But the family favourite became this utterly simple 4-ingredient recipe for poached pears. I knew I‘d done something right the moment my very critical daughter asked me to make it again as we finished the first batch.
In the past I have poached pears with different spices and all have their merits, but this vanilla version is somehow the most compelling. You can scale down the recipe, but I like to make a bigger batch and keep them in the fridge. They keep for at least 4 days and are good eaten in so many ways: on top of your morning porridge, with a dollop of Greek yogurt, alongside some blue cheese… When we had friends over I also served them with a wedge of spiced gingerbread cake as a perfectly autumnal dessert.
Vanilla poached pears
10 ripe but firm pears
1 liter (4 cups) water
175 g (1 cup) Demerara sugar
1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise
Juice of half a lemon
Peel the pears, halve and core. In a large pan, bring the water with sugar, vanilla and lemon juice to boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat low and add the pears. Gently simmer until the pears are tender when pierced with a knife. With my pears it took about 15 minutes but it can take up to 30, depending on ripeness.
When the pears are tender, take them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Boil the remaining liquid rapidly until it is reduced to about a third and has syrupy consistency. Let cool and store the pears in the syrup in the fridge.