Vanilla and Saffron Pear Compote
Australian pear growers are celebrating the start of a bumper season with the launch of the first ever national Australian Pear Month. Williams', Red Sensation, Beurre Bosc and Winter Nelis are in plentiful supply, so pop an armful of pears into your basket at your farmer's markets this month.
Since ancient times, pears have been considered an exquisite fruit. Succulent pears in jelly, pear preserves, pears cooked in wine and a syrup of vinegar and honey were popular for the feasts of the Byzantines. The Romans sang of the golden treasures of the bush pear; and the Greek poet, Homer, mused about it . As the kings of Persia declared pears a royal delicacy, the French emperor Charlemagne ordered each of his subjects to plant pear trees in their gardens.
Pears are picked when fully developed but still firm, and will continue to ripen off the tree. So if you've bought pears which are still hard, let them ripen naturally at room temperature and note that pears ripen from the inside out. To test for ripeness, gently press the flesh of the pear near the stem. If it gives, it is ready to eat. Williams' will ripen within one to three days, whereas Packhams and Beurre Bosc within three to eight days. You can hasten ripening by placing pears in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple.
Iconic cook and pear grower, Maggie Beer, says 'I am lucky enough to have my own pear orchard, but with pears in season now everyone can enjoy this versatile fruit in endless savoury and sweet combinations. The quality, flavour and freshness of Australian produce is second to none. Where possible, Australians should buy Australian produce and support the local industry.'
For more information about Australian pears, National Pear Month and an assortment of pear recipes, visit Horticulture Australia's rediscover pears website.
This snippet is my entry in What Can You Pair with a Pear challenge. It's a dessert that I've been cooking for many years and was originally inspired by a combination of my mother’s beautiful pear compote and a lovely dish by Geoff Jansz. The pears are gently poached in a light sugar syrup infused with aromatic vanilla and saffron. I love serving this compote with a dollop of good quality sour cream or crème fraîche. Have you tried serving sour cream with your desserts?
VANILLA AND SAFFRON PEAR COMPOTE
4 Williams’ or Beurre Bosc pears
2 cups natural apple juice*
¾ cup raw sugar
1 cup water
1 vanilla bean, split
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
juice of half a lemon
Peel the pears and remove the core at the base with a melon baller, taking care to leave the stems intact. Place the pears onto a plate and sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice to prevent them from browning.
Combine the apple juice, raw sugar, water and vanilla bean in a deep saucepan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat (or use a heat diffuser), add the pears and saffron and poach for an hour, basting the pears gently every so often. The idea is to very gently poach the fruit in the syrup, and not allow it to boil. The pears will remain intact and the flesh will be perfectly delicious.
Allow to cool. Serve chilled with sour cream or crème fraîche. The compote is perfect refrigerated for several hours or overnight. Serves 4.
*Use a preservative free, natural apple juice. I recommend Preshafruit 100% apple juices. They contain no concentrates, no preservatives, no sweeteners and no colours.
Food facts: Williams' pears have been grown in Australia for more than 120 years and now make up 47 per cent of the total crop, which number around 130,000 tonnes annually! Williams' have a trademark golden colour as they ripen. Pears have a low glycemic index (GI), making them the ideal nutritious snack.
Food facts: according to spice expert, Ian 'Herbie' Hemphill, there are around 100 species of culinary vanilla vine, or Orchidceae; the most important being V.planifolia. The tasteless vanilla beans or pods that form after flowering are dried and cured to bring out the natural vanillin enzymes. For more about vanilla, watch Herbie's fascinating video.
Food facts: Saffron is native to Asia Minor and was once used to dye the robes of Buddhist monks. In Roman times, it was scattered at the feet of emporers, and sprinkled on the beds of well-to-do newlyweds. Saffron was introduced to the Spaniards by the Moors; and, according to Larousse, the "Bible" of food and cooking, the best saffron comes from Valencia in Spain. Saffron is grown in the US, England, France and the Mediterranean, North Africa, Iran, Kashmir, and also in Australia in the Huon Valley of Tasmania. More recently, a grower near Bungendore in NSW, Australia, is having success. Take a tour of Christine McMillan's farm here thanks to ABC Rural.
Et voilà! Vanilla and Saffron Pear Compote. C'est magnifique... even if I do say so.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.