Unlike many fruits, pears are not best when ripened on the tree, and the unripe fruit after picking needs to be kept at low temperature for a certain length of time in order to develop the ability to ripen optimally off the tree1. One of my earliest recollections of this fruit as a dessert comes from an image of a whole pear shared with family at a restaurant in Connecticut. It was not so much the flavor - which was quite good - but the structural integrity and shape that it retained even after being cooked.
While poaching is a method popularly associated with cooking eggs in liquid at low heat, firm fleshed fruits like pears also lend themselves well to being cooked by this method. And, often times the poaching liquid is flavored to gradually infuse the poaching fruit with new flavors. The final poaching liquid itself extracts fruit juices, and when reduced serves as a complementing sauce to the poached fruit.
Here is a method to poach pears:
Spices of choice (cinnamon, cloves, star anise etc.)
Peel and core pears, and rub with lemon to prevent discolorization. In a pan dissolve sugar with water over moderate heat, add spices of choice, and lemon slices. When the poaching liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat, add the pears, cover loosely with parchment paper and depending on firmness of the pear cook at a very gentle simmer for 10-20 minutes or until fork tender. Remove pan from heat, let cool down, remove pears, and then reduce the poaching liquid to a sauce the consistency that coats a spoon. Serve the pear glazed with the sauce and any other complimenting accompaniment.
One friend from across the Atlantic emails a long, detailed, traditional pear recipe; another friend from near home emails an invitation to a home cooked dinner on Thanksgiving day while enquiring about the next blog entry; and then, some family drive all the way from Connecticut to visit for a few hours – the moment seems to pair well with poached pears.
1. Ripening of European Pears: the Chilling Dilemma by Villalobos-Acuna, M and Mitcham EJ in Post Harvest Biology and Technology, 49 (2008) 187-200.
Post script: A reader emails a salad suggestion that pairs sliced pears with sliced fennel bulbs, tossed in olive oil and maple syrup, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then oven roasted.