Recipe: Poached Seckel Pears
Having the last name Bartlett, I have a natural-born fondness for pears. It makes sense. One of my favorites that’s commercially grown, thus widely available, is the sweet little seckel. (Sorry Bartletts!) They are sweet – you’ll sometimes find them labeled sugar pears – and they have a dense flesh. I’ve been told they are one of the few truly American pears, other popular types being derived from European cultivars.
It is hard to top a perfectly-ripe pear in its simplicity for a snack or for dessert, but seckels lend themselves to some marvelous kitchen transformations, too. I once made a glazed frangipane tart with extra crumbly, buttery dough, and used poached seckels on top and the thickened juice from their cooking for the glaze. (pictured above)
Poaching them is simple. Any people who aren’t in love with the pear flesh texture will change their mind when they are prepared this way, I find.
Simply cut a small sliver off the base of each pear so it can stand up confidently. Then peel back the skin from the top down, so that the stem remains. Turn your oven to 325 F and place the seckels pears in a pyrex. They can be touching but shouldn’t be over-crowded. This recipe can be done with any size pyrex, you just may have to adjust the cooking time. Don’t used a round-sided or bowl-shaped pyrex or metal pans unless the metal is heartily coated or glazed; aluminum is a no-go here.
Pour over the top some wine or apple juice until there is a half-inch of liquid up the side of the pan. The add several generous pinches of brown sugar or muscovado evenly distributed. Place pats of butter around the pears, about one pat for every three pears. If they are under-ripe or if you are a spice maven, add crushed cardamom pods or a dusting of nutmeg or a few allspice berries. Tent with foil and poach in the oven for at least 45 minutes, usually an hour.
The liquid will be homogenous and fragrant and the pears gently softened when done. It is OK is they are a bit under-done, but if you go too long they can get mushy and fall apart.
Enjoy plain with a couple spoonfuls of the poaching liquid, or with vanilla or cardamom ice cream, or in a more complicated tart. But, don’t forget to save at least a few to savor the un-toppable joy of unadorned and unfurnished well-grown fruit. They are a mighty celebration served plain.