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Simon Hopkinson's Poached Pears

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One of the most astute observations on the contrary pear was noted exactly by the great Eddie Izzard during one of his wonderful shows. Izzard's gripe and frustration are well grounded. You buy a couple of pounds of slightly under-ripe, clean, and unblemished pears, with the innocent intention of allowing them to ripen up over a few days at home. "Hmmm, yes, I will arrange them in that bowl I think, put them on the sideboard, and enjoy them with some Roquefort on Friday when Michael and Gloria are coming for supper." Then, as if by magic, that very afternoon they will suddenly decide to blotch and bloat, their insides turning to a fluffy mass of woolly flesh, bereft of both taste and texture.

In fact, so frustrating is the fresh pear that when wishing to use some to fashion a hot pear dessert, such as the one that follows, I will often find myself reaching for a can of Del Monte. ("This cook he need a perfect pudding? He say yeah!") But then -- and I know I'm not alone here -- I have always enjoyed a can of fruit, so long as it has been stored in the fridge for a few hours to become really cold. Similarly, its perfect partner, a welter of Carnation Milk, should also be well chilled for maximum enjoyment.

If you want to cook pears from raw, then buy them rock-hard -- which, I am convinced, is what the canny canners do anyway. An impenetrable pear will always perform, just so long as it is cooked in a balm of sweet and fragrant syrup, preferably perfumed with a nice black bean of vanilla, a bay leaf perhaps, and - though certainly not for me -- a curly brown scroll of cinammon bark.

The first person to cook me some pears in this fashion was Mr. J. Gordon Macintyre, who owns a most individual hotel in Nairn, in the Scottish Highlands. He has been proprietor, chef, actor/manager of his own in-house theatrical productions, and general all-round bon viveur for well over thirty years now, continuing in a tradition inherited from his father before him. I remember these delicious pears arriving at the table in a deep earthenware pot, still lightly steaming from their poach and with the scent of sweet vanilla pervading the dining room along with a final heady boost of a slug of eau de vie de poires Williams that had been poured in at the last minute.

An excerpt from Second Helpings of Roast Chicken by Simon Hopkinson. Copyright (c) 2008 Simon Hopkinson. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.