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Poached Pears  printer-friendly version
By Charlie Burke

The holiday season is fast approaching, and many of us will be entertaining
and serving special meals. Often, a rich desert is too much after one of these
meals, and one of our favorite choices on these occasions is poached pears.
Visually appealing and easily prepared ahead, they are a healthy alternative
always appreciated by guests.

I usually choose a fruity red wine such as Zinfandel for the poaching liquid,
and if you wish to use a local New England wine, there are many choices,
including the Dry Blueberry Wine from Bartlett Maine Estate’s Winery an
excellent wine I found long ago and have served at Thanksgiving and to guests
when we had a cottage at Sebago Lake.

Unfortunately, I do not believe it is available outside of Maine, but similar
wines are made throughout northern New England. I recently heard from Frank
Reinhold of
Flag Hill Winery and Distillery in Lee New Hampshire  the New
Hampshire Winery Association counts twenty-five wineries in operation or
development in New Hampshire!

Once familiar with this simple preparation, you will find there are innumerable
variations, depending upon your choice of wine and spices. I enjoy the
complex flavor of star anise and usually combine it with whole allspice,
cinnamon sticks, and a few pepper corns, but packaged cider mulling spices
would work, as well. I usually sweeten the liquid with maple syrup, but
granulated or brown sugar is commonly used.

Use slightly under-ripe Bosc pears or similar firm fleshed pears because softer
varieties will break apart during cooking. Despite the intense color of the wine,
the pears often emerge with only a disappointing pink hue. I recently read that
in France some slice a medium beet and add it to the wine at the start, and the
dark crimson color in the above photo is the result of having done so. The
solids are strained before serving, and the beet added no detectable flavor, so
we have added a sliced beet to our recipe.

Four servings:

4 firm Bosc or other firm fleshed pears, peeled and with a slice removed from
the bottom so that the pear will stand upright
1 bottle of Zinfandel or other fruity red wine
2 star anise (4 cloves may be substituted)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1/3 cup maple syrup or sugar, or more to taste
1 large slice orange zest, orange part only
1 medium beet, thinly sliced

Place all ingredients except the pears into a saucepan just large enough to hold
the pears in one layer. Bring it to a boil and add the pears. Adjust the heat so
that the liquid is just simmering. Cover and cook the pears, turning them
occasionally if they are not covered by the liquid, until they are just done,
approximately 30 minutes. A thin knife should slide into the pears with slight

Remove the pears and boil the liquid until it is slightly thickened. Taste the
liquid, adding more maple syrup or sugar as needed; the liquid should be
slightly tart. Strain the liquid and return the pears to the liquid. The pears can
be prepared 24-48 hours before serving

Chill the pears in their liquid (I use a sealed plastic bag to maximize contact
with the liquid). Serve the chilled pears with some of the liquid - extra liquid
can be reserved and served as  sauce with seared duck breast or pork.

My wife, Joanne, is rightfully known for the great deserts she makes, but simple
poached pears always evoke favorable comments and requests that we serve
them again.  They are quick and easy and can be made well ahead – perfect for
holiday entertaining.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
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Poached Pear, Photo by Charlie Burke
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