Take twelve large baking pears, pare and cut them into halves, take out the core with the point of a knife, and place them close together in a block tin saucepan, the cover to fit tight ; put to them the rind of a lemon cut fine, with half its juice, a small stick of cinnamon, and twenty grains of alspice, cover them with spring water, and allow one pound of loaf sugar to a pint of water ; cover them up close, and bake them for six hours in a very slow oven ; they will be quite tender, and of a bright colour. Prepared cochineal is generally used for colouring them ; but, if the above is strictly attended to, no preparation is required.
William Goodman, The Social History of Great Britain During the Reigns of the Stuarts (1843)
It’s pear season and, if you’ve left them on the tree long enough, they should be ready for picking and ripening on a windowsill round about now. Some varieties will have ripened early, of course, and some cooking pears – Wardens, or the ‘Black Worcester’ for instance – will probably still be rock-hard. But once you’ve cooked them up, they’ll be absolutely delicious. With that in mind here’s a simple but effective-sounding recipe for baked pears, that comes from a rather odd source.
You probably wouldn’t expect to find too many recipes in a social history book published today, but William Goodman’s volume seems to be more of a keen amateur’s miscellany than an academic historical study; a collection of odds and ends and quotations and poetry on the general subject of Stuart Great Britain.1From the introduction we learn the author’s intent: “The design of this work is to exhibit to the American reader, in a concise form, the manners, the customs, and the social condition of the people by whom this country was, for the most part, colonized.” So there you go. I stumbled across the section above because the previous entry is sub-titled ‘To dry apples like Norfolk biffins‘, which I was researching for a long-read post earlier this year.
Anyhow, this seems like a simple enough method for baking pears, and one that ought to give good results. I’m not sure you’d need to add all that sugar though. A pound (450g) per pint of water sounds like rather a lot to me, but perhaps the average nineteenth century sweet tooth was much more pronounced than mine. But the cinnamon and allspice spicing does sound pleasant, and after six hours in a low oven even a ‘Black Worcester’ or a Warden will be beautifully soft and tender.
How about you? How do you like to bake your pears? Something similar, or do you prefer to poach them in red wine or cider? Do let me know, via the comments, or you can email me with your notes and photos.
- 1From the introduction we learn the author’s intent: “The design of this work is to exhibit to the American reader, in a concise form, the manners, the customs, and the social condition of the people by whom this country was, for the most part, colonized.” So there you go.