This weekend I finally made a batch of Fiona's lovely Belgian pears. Apparently they have nothing to do with Belgium, in fact, but so what?
These pears are very slowly poached in nothing more than sugar, vinegar, and their own juices. The ingredients and cooking times are a little disconcerting -- vinegar? Six hours? But the recipe is absolutely right. (Well, unless your pears are really enormous, I would say that you can stop after a mere five hours.)
By the end they have turned a beautiful rosy color, the poaching liquid has developed a sophisticated, slightly boozy flavor without a hint of vinegar about it, and the whole house smells gorgeous.
The pears produce a lot of liquid -- this is actually enough to cover all the pears in there, but they kept bobbing to the surface. You can turn them to make sure they cook and color evenly, but be very gentle.
The pears shrink. Six pounds made enough to fill two .75 liter jars and one .5 liter jar, and left a cup of extra syrup, which I put up in its own jar. You wouldn't want to use regular Ball jars for this -- even the wide mouth is not wide enough to accommodate whole pears without injury. This kind of bail-wire jar, with rubber gasket, works better.
Then I processed them in my brand-new canning pot: 20 minutes in a boiling-water bath.
Here are the proportions, in case by some terrible chance Fiona's recipe should ever go offline. The measurements are metric and by weight -- the solids, at least -- because British recipes are sensible like that. Five hundred grams of sugar comes out to about two American cups, and a hundred and fifty milliliters of vinegar is about five liquid ounces. Fiona notes, additionally, that you do want to use at least two kilos (just shy of 4.5 pounds) of fruit, in order to get enough liquid. You can scale up, though.
FIONA'S BELGIAN PEARS
2 kilos of pears
500g of white granulated sugar
150 ml of white wine vinegar
Wash and peel the pears, leaving them whole otherwise and leaving the stem on. Catch any drips of juice and put them in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid along with the sugar and vinegar.
Melt the sugar in the vinegar, over medium heat, and add the pears. Cover tightly and turn the heat down to low.
Simmer gently with the lid on for three hours. The pears will produce quite a lot of liquid. Remove the lid and simmer uncovered, on the lowest possible flame, for two or three hours longer. Transfer to sterilized jars, seal, and process in a boiling-water bath for twenty minutes.
The pears should keep for a year and are an instant dressy dessert all unto themselves (but better yet with cream).