A friend of ours has the most marvellous garden. It is like The Secret Garden, only better. It is full of fruit trees; apple, medlar, plum, cherry and pear. Fortunately for us our friend is also very generous. He turns up with buckets full of whatever fruit is ready. Last week was the turn of the pear and what lovely pears they were. They deserved to be turned into something special. In fact I made not one but two desserts with them, these poached pears and a caramelised pear and almond cake which will feature in the next post. The two made for some very nice eating after a lovely meal at my mum and dad’s house.
6-8 pears (fairly firm)
1 bottle of good red wine
1 vanilla pod, split and cut into three pieces
5 cm cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 whole cloves
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
225g caster sugar
Peel the pears, leaving them whole and the stalk intact. Cut a little off the bottom so that each pear will stand upright.
Pour the wine into a saucepan that is large enough to take all the pears but not too large as you want the pears to be as covered in the wine as they can be. Add the sugar, the spices and the thyme. Place over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pears and turn the heat up until the wine is simmering. Cover the pan with a lid. Simmer for twenty to thirty minutes until the pears are just tender when you test with a cocktail stick or fork tine. If the pears are not fully submerged in the wine then turn them every five minutes during cooking to make sure they become evenly coloured.
Remove the pears to a deep bowl. Turn the heat up under the wine and boil vigorously until reduced by about half and it has become syrupy. Allow the syrup to cool a little and then pour over the pears. This way they will develop a deeper red colour. Place in the fridge. The pears can be made up to two days ahead. Serve with lashings of cream.
These berries all came from the garden. How lucky are we?
I knew I had to make something that would make the most of these little beauties. I adore a fruit tart, with its contrast of crisp pastry, unctuous custard and tart fruit and this one didn’t disappoint. The girls loved decorating the top with the berries too.
For the pastry
200g plain flour
100g cold butter
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 egg, beaten
For the pastry cream
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
25g plain (all purpose flour) sifted
½ tsp vanilla extract or a vanilla pod
For the topping:
fruit of your choice
2 tbsps jam or jelly (such as medlar or redcurrant)
Make the pastry by placing the flour, cubed butter and icing sugar in a food processor and whizzing until it looks like tiny breadcrumbs. Add half the egg and pulse the food processor a few times. The pastry should begin to gather in a ball. Add more egg if you need to and pulse again. Be careful not to overwork the pastry. Form the pastry into a flattened disc, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for thirty minutes.
Remove the pastry from the clingfilm and roll out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it into a circle slightly bigger than the flan case. My flan case measures 23cm. Carefully place the pastry into the flan case, pushing it into the corners with your fingers. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the flan case to remove any extra pastry and neaten the top. If you have time allow to rest again in the fridge for 20 minutes. This will reduce shrinking of the pastry during cooking. Place a square of foil on top of the pastry and then fill the case with baking beans ( or dried beans or uncooked rice). This will prevent the pastry from rising during cooking. Place in a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6 for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and the foil and prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until golden brown all over. Leave the pastry case to cool.
Make the pastry cream by whisking together the egg yolks and the sugar until light in colour and thick. Stir in the sifted flour.
Heat the milk and the vanilla until just boiling (remove the vanilla pod if using) and then pour slowly over the egg mixture whisking all the time. Pour it all back into the saucepan and continue to cook over a gentle heat until it comes to a gentle boil. Allow it to boil, stirring all the time for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir until it cools. If is is lumpy then push the mixture through a sieve. Cover the custard with clingfilm directly on top to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool completely.
About an hour before serving pour the pastry cream into the pastry case. Decorate with the fruit. Warm the jam/ jelly in a small saucepan and sieve if it has any seeds in it, then brush gently over the fruit to glaze.
We have a friend who has a wonderful selection of fruit trees in his garden. This year we have received basketfuls of apples, walnuts, these cherries
and this week, possibly the most exciting yet.
Okay, the cherries were probably the tastiest and it is a real treat to have cherries fresh from the tree and a huge basketful to boot. But the medlar is a fruit I have read about and wondered about and I find them very intriguing. Now, according to my friend the colloquial term for these little beauties is Dog’s Arse – I can’t begin to think why.
I was thrilled when he knocked the door bearing a basket full of these unusual fruit.
As they are, fresh off the tree, they are hard and yield very little juice or smell. They are not pleasant eaten raw straight off the tree but I am led to believe that if I leave them in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks they will start to blet, which is they will soften and turn a darker brown, and then could be eaten raw. However, I am not sure I will be brave enough to try them when, let’s face it, they will be halfway to rotten, and my friend tells me that he left some to blet last year and just couldn’t fancy eating one. His chickens had a feast though.
Anyway, my medlars are in the garage bletting away. I plan to make medlar jelly in the next couple of weeks with them. If anyone has any experience of medlars or has a good recipe for a jelly or anything else then I would be very interested to hear it.