Thursday, 6 October 2011 | 10 comments

Poires au poivre (Peppered pears)

As I get older, I find I’m trading the bold for the subtle, in terms of taste. When I first realized this, I felt boring. I picked up a patterned skirt in a store the other day, admired it; loved it, even; and considered buying it. In the end, it was a little sad, but I put that splashy skirt back on the rack, knowing I’d get more mileage out of something solid-black. This shift translates into food and drink, too. Where I used to love hop-bomb beers, I now seek out well-balanced, layered brews. In food, it’s no longer enough for a dessert to be sweet—I want it to be a sweet that’s worth my time. Something to think on.I’m starting to learn, though, that my growing emphasis on subtlety can be an asset. Everyone notices those sunrises where the sky is awash with fuschia or electric orange, but when I head out the door in the morning, I find myself meditating on the rich, individual colors that, a few years ago, just seemed like everyday, muted morning hues: dove grey, cashmere pink, and pale, Wedgwood blue. Aesthetically, I seek beauty that causes pause. In the kitchen, I crave food that engages the senses. In conversation, I want slow, spreading smiles. It’s the opposite of boring: it’s trading in the immediately stimulating for the steady burn.My mama, in part, inspired my love of this kind of experience. From her comes my obsession with patina, with the old, the rough-edged, the hand-hewn. She taught me to love crumbling houses where others would see an eyesore. She almost exclusively drove the back roads, insisting that no one is ever lost, but instead just taking the long way. History wasn’t the past for her; instead, every battlefield held stories in the dirt. Seaweed plucked from the water became bangles and necklaces in her hands. She would spend entire days with a big mallet, splitting open creekbed rocks, just to see if there were quartz or amethyst crystals inside. Mama loved the kind of beauty that needs dusting off, shaken out, held up to the light, and seen for what it really is. One year ago, she passed away. I don’t think I ever would have attributed all these things to her if she were still here—-that’s just how it goes. I realize now that my appreciation of multilayered beauty, of small details, of stories you have to dig up and dig into: this is what my mom taught me about taste. These poires au poivre (poached, peppered pears) are a nice reflection of a taste that strays from cloying-sweet to “something to think on.” They combine two recent obsessions: peppering fruit (I did this with figs far too often last month) and Asian pears. Don’t knock it til you try it. Just like cinnamon, cloves, or other pungent spices can bring depth to apples and pears, so can freshly ground black pepper. It’s an elegant dessert that leaves a little white wine and spice in your mouth; I imagine this going amazingly with a cheese plate.

Serve it with family and friends around, use the good china, and linger at the table. Notice all those bits and pieces that make up the beautiful whole. It’s something to think on.

Poires au poivre (Peppered pears)

Inspired by my love of black pepper + fruit and this wonderful ’80s-era Telegraph article

You will need

    4 pears (you don’t have to use Asian pears, but I think their firmer texture holds up better to the poaching), skins removed but stems left intact
    3 cups fruity, dry or semi-dry white wine (In DC, look for a Virginia Viognier or Petit Manseng)
    1 cup water
    1 cup sugar
    1 vanilla bean (split)
    Black pepper


    Heat wine, water, sugar, and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove vanilla bean with a slotted spoon. Reduce mixture to a simmer, and add two pears. Poach the pears in the wine-sugar mixture for 5-10 minutes, until pears are tender and their color changes subtly. Place on a plate and in the refrigerator. Repeat the poaching process with the other two pears.

    When all pears have been poached, turn heat to high. Boil the wine-sugar mixture for 15-30 minutes, until the syrup is reduced by half or more. Allow to cool for a few minutes.

    Place each pear on a plate. Pour a few tablespoons of the reduced poaching liquid over the top. Grind black pepper over the top, and serve.


§ 10 responses to Poires au poivre (Peppered pears)

  • Your mom sounds like an amazing woman. Nuance is beauty. I love this. I’m a sucker for Asian pears. I would love to make this for my mother sometime soon. Miss her.

  • what a refreshingly simple recipe. It’s so easy to get caught up in complexity, but your mom was right, there is beauty abounding in the simpler things. I’ve been trying recently to focus on all of the little things that we experience while we’re waiting for that next-big-thing, whatever it may be, to happen. It has been a refreshing change of pace. But if there is one thing I’ve always loved, through times of simplicity and times of complexity, it has been a crumbling house. I stop for ruins! wonderful post.

  • ah, Virginia wine. miss it. possible move next summer though. love this beautiful post.

  • Beautiful, beautiful post, Sarah. How lucky you are to have had such a mother, as mine was for me. My dad too. Isn’t it curious how their influences come out in the tiniest, simplest things? In that way, they’re still with us, I think. That first year is the hardest though, no two ways about it, and my thoughts are with you.

  • My Scandinavian heritage has taught me that pepper is a wonderful spice to use with sweet things. I once made some gingerbread bars and replaced ground cloves (I didn’t have any) with ground black pepper and holy crap! was it delicious. Very spicy but soooo good in teeny squares with lots of ice cold milk.

    Pepper and pears is next on the list.

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