Monday, 18 November 2013

Pickled Pears

I do love pears. When they are at that moment of optimum ripeness, there really is nothing to beat them. Apples are undeniably popular and this is due in part to their versatility, but the complexity of flavour that a perfectly ripe pear possesses is something that, in my opinion an apple never achieves.

Pears are wonderful used in cooking, and have something valuable to contribute to a range of sweet and savoury dishes. They are easily preserved and made into different chutneys, jams and pickles.

Pears are abundant in Autumn, although they can be a little tricky to cultivate if grown on an exposed, windy or cold site. Certainly, I have never been able to grow them successfully because of prevailing chilly winds where I live! Thankfully a number of different Irish varieties are available in supermarkets and greengrocers at a reasonable cost when they are in season. I tend to bulk buy them at this time of year and celebrate the many different dishes that I can create using them.

There’s something about making jams, chutneys, pickles and other preserves that really appeals to me. I love the somewhat romantic notion that I have developed of having food available during the “long, hard Winter” The irony of this is not lost on me given the fact that in the modern world all you have to do is walk into a shop and there are so many different foods that can be bought, but still, every year I like to bottle and preserve some fruits and vegetables.

This pickle is great and extremely easy to make. 1 kilogram of small to medium pears will yield three 500ml jars of pickled pears. I really do urge you to store the pears for at least a couple of weeks before eating them, because the flavours mellow and become almost sweeter but without being overly so. I particularly like eating these pears with cold meats at Christmas, but I recently tried them with some home-made vanilla ice-cream as a dessert and they were also delicious. In fact they made quite a sophisticated dessert and the sour acidity of the vinegar was well-offset by the sweetness of the sugar and the cinnamon.

Ingredients:

1kg pears
425g granulated sugar
400ml cider vinegar
200ml white wine vinegar
6 cloves
3 star anise
12 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick broken in two
4 strips of orange rind
4-6 slices of fresh root ginger root, peeled

Method:

1. Put all the ingredients except the pears into a large heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down so that the pickling sauce is gently simmering and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave aside while you prepare the pears.
2. Peel and halve the pears trying to retain a small length of the stalk at the top of each pear. I find it useful to use a very small sharp knife when doing this. Use a melon baller or small teaspoon to neatly scoop out the pear cores.
3. Place the pears in the pickling liquid and heat up over a moderate heat and allow simmer until just tender. This should take about twenty minutes, but to be honest the timing completely depends on the pears that you have used.
4. Once the pears are ready, remove them with a slotted spoon and place in sterilised 500ml jars. I used Kilner Jars.
5. Continue to boil the pickling liquid until it reduces and becomes quite syrupy, but do remember that it will thicken more as it cools. Strain the syrup over the pears, but scoop out the cloves, star anise, peppercorns and cinnamon and add to the jars. Do not add the orange rind or root ginger.
6. Seal the jars and store for at least a week before eating. They can be stored for up to 6 months in somewhere cool and dark.

Makes 3 x 500ml jars.