Henry Howard, on Stewing Pears

Take the greatest Warden-pears, bake them with brown Bread ; put in a Pint of strong Beer or Ale : When they are baked take them out of the Liquor ; and take half a Pint of it, and half a Pint of Claret, and a quarter of a pound of Sugar ; put them in the Stew-pan with two Cloves, a little Cream, cover them close, and let them stew 'till they are very red, turn them now and then ; when they are enough put them into a Dish you intend to serve them to the Table in, with the Liquor they were stewed in ; strow Double-refined Sugar over the Dish ; serve it for a Side-dish.

Henry Howard, England’s Newest Way in All Sorts of Cookery, Pastry, and All Pickles (1708)

Yesterday we had baked pears, today we’re going to stew them. Or rather, bake them then stew them. Let’s see if we can work out how Henry Howard would like us to go about it.

“Warden-pears” were and still are[1] cooking pears: rock-hard and inedible until they are slowly baked or poached, after which they transform into smooth, buttery deliciousness. Here we’re told to use the “greatest” wardens, so you’ll be wanting to cook some big ones.

When Henry Howard says to “bake them with brown Bread“, I’m assuming he means to bake them at the same time as the brown bread is in the oven, rather than baking them along with slices of brown bread. Note he doesn’t say how many pears, but I’d guess at 4 to 6, depending on their size. Temperature-wise, somewhere around 180°C seems sensible, and I’d say about 40-50 minutes should do it.

Next, Henry calls for the addition of a pint of strong Beer or Ale, although he really should have called for that first, because he clearly intends for the pears to be baked in the beer. Now, a ‘strong’ beer today might not be the same as a ‘strong’ beer in 1708. [2]. Assuming the eighteenth century understanding of ‘strong’ meant a beer or ale that wasn’t ‘small’ (brewed weaker for everyday drinking), then we’re looking for a beer with a decent a.b.v. that will compliment the pears. Nothing too overly-hoppy, something rich in malts. In the UK I’d suggest the likes of Theakston’s ‘Old Peculier’, or Morland’s ‘Old Speckled Hen’, or Black Sheep’s ‘Black Sheep’, something along those lines. An ‘old ale’ rather than a stout or porter. Although ‘pears in porter’ does have a nice ring to it… but I digress.

Once the pears are cooked, you need to take a half pint of the cooking liquor – by now a blend of beer and pear juice – and add half a pint of claret. Or whatever red wine you have to hand. Or maybe even port? Than might work. ‘Pears in porter and port’? We could be onto something here… but I digress again.

A quarter pound (approx 112g) of sugar isn’t an excessive amount, but you could reduce that if you wanted to. A few spices (I’d have to swap the cloves for a lump of root ginger or a cinnamon stick, as I’m really not fond of cloves), and “a little” cream (about 50ml? 75ml?) which I assume you’d need to add when the liquor was reasonably cool, to prevent it curdling.

You then just need to stew the baked pears in the beer / wine / sugar / cream mix, in a pan on the stove, until they’re bright red and, I expect, meltingly tender. And then serve them forth! Strewing with sugar is optional, unless you really want to give your sweet tooth a work-out.

This is another example[3] of a fairly sweet dish being served as a ‘side dish’ – I’d love to know whether this just means a dish served alongside a main course, or something else entirely, so if anyone can shed light on that, pleaese do drop a comment below – but you can have it at the end of your meal if you prefer. Or for supper. Or for a decadently luxurious weekend breakfast, why not?

I really like the sound of this one. The beer / wine mix is an unusual liquor for pear-poaching, but it could work really well, with the right combination of both.

How about you? Do you fancy giving this one a go? If you do, please do let me know how you get on, either by leaving a comment below, or by emailing me with your notes and photos.


1 The Original Warden Pear by Margaret Roberts is a superb source of info on the history and use of Wardens, I urge you to seek it out.
2 The meaning of terms associated with beer have sometimes changed over the centuries – ‘mild’ for example used to mean ‘freshly made’ rather than ‘lower in alcohol’ and ‘stale’ meant ‘aged’ rather than ‘gone off'
3 As is Henry Howard’s ‘Pippin Tansey‘.

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