While in Toronto last month, I was marvelled by my in-laws’ pear tree (photo below). It was a compact tree, mostly healthy and loaded with small green fruit; nothing spectacular, but what surprised me was that I had never noticed it before, growing by the curb right in front of their house!
This is the first year the tree is producing edible fruit, and my mother in-law thinks that City of Toronto workers made a mistake and planted that tree, probably destined to a park, instead of the usual side-of-the-road trees. I checked the city’s Urban Forestry Plan, and sure enough, their tree planting policy on city property specifies that “… species selection is limited to City-approved species. Fruit trees, evergreens and decorative ornamentals, such as Weeping Mulberry are not planted. Please refer to the Tree Planting brochure to view a list of trees to choose from…” The planting brochure indicated that my in-laws should have gotten a tree for a T-sL1 area (between curb and sidewalk), most likely a tree from an eclectic list of maple, oak and locust varieties. What a lucky mix-up!
The pears were smallish, and obviously far from supermarket produce perfection, but otherwise they looked fine and were abundant on many of the tree’s branches:
From their bright green tone and egg-shaped appearance, I guessed they were some variety of Anjou pear (also called “d’Anjou” – from Anjou, their region of origin in France). My husband and I collected two buckets full of fruit, and were given a big batch of pears to bring back home:
They were slightly hard, but they gradually ripened over the next few days. We peeled them before consuming, to avoid any city pollutants from the skin; they were sweet and very tasty. A couple of days ago, though, it became evident that the pears were ripening faster than any rate at which we could possibly enjoy them; instead of eating them in a rush under duress, I cooked the last dozen, poached in a Mexican style syrup. What could be sweeter or more precious than hand-picked pears, slowly simmered in brown sugar (piloncillo) syrup, while being flavoured with cinnamon and citrus zest? “Maybe the fact that for once, we are getting something free from the government” I thought to myself, with just the slightest smirk on my face.
Pears in Brown Sugar Syrup
– Peras en almíbar de piloncillo
10 Anjou pears (I had 12 small)
2 cups water
1 cone piloncillo (see note below) or 1 cup muscovado, Sucanat™ or dark demerara
1 stick cinnamon (Mexican or cassia)
Citrus rind (orange or, as in this case, lime), to taste
NOTE: Piloncillo is the name used in Mexico and Spain for an unrefined sweetener, produced by the reduction of whole sugar cane juice, often molded in the shape of truncated cones, or pylons (see photo below, left). In other countries in Latin America, this product may be formed into other shapes or sold granulated, known by different names, such as: panela (for example, in Venezuela and Ecuador), chancaca (in Perú, Bolivia and Chile) or rapadura (Brazil); to some, the names jaggery or “Uluru Dust” are related to similar sugar cane products. If not available, muscovado and Sucanat™ are also unrefined sugars, and I have found that dark demerara (photo below, right) has a similar flavour to piloncillo, although it is partially refined:
I started with a large pan, wide enough to hold all my pears in a single layer; I placed the water and piloncillo in the pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the cone was completely dissolved. Then, I added the cinnamon stick and lime rind; I chose cassia cinnamon and strips of rind, so they could be easily removed at the end of the cooking time, without having to strain the syrup:
I lowered the heat and let the concoction simmer, stirring a couple of times. Meanwhile, I peeled the pears with a paring knife, starting at the top and going down in a spiral, to keep their shape and stem intact. Once I finished with the pears, about ten minutes later, I arranged them in the pan, in a single layer. I continued cooking the pears, turning them a couple of times so they could slowly absorb the syrup all around:
After twenty minutes, they were uniformly dark from the syrup and fully cooked, but still firm enough to be lifted by the stem without breaking. I turned off the heat, removed the cinnamon stick and lime rind, and let the pears and syrup reach room temperature (if using fragile Mexican cinnamon, or grated citrus rind, strain the syrup before serving.) I arranged a couple of pears on a plate, poured some syrup on top and placed a fresh strip of rind as a decoration (see photo at the top of the post). However, when it was time to taste, I decided to prepare another portion in a bowl, which could hold a lot more syrup:
When I slid my spoon down into a pear, I was able to scoop plenty of syrup with it; the syrup’s taste was sweet and complex from the piloncillo and flavourings, but I could still appreciate the smooth – almost custardy – flavour and texture of the poached pear. They were so delicious, they would have been worth making even if I’d had to buy them!
FUN FACT – There is a phrase in Spanish: “Ser una perita en dulce”, which translates as “to be a candied little pear”, used to refer to someone who is well mannered, sweet and considered precious, or as the Real Academy of the Spanish Language states: “pera en dulce – person or animal of excellent qualities.” Although candied fruit has been prepared since the 14th century, the expression most likely dates from the late 1800s, when crystallized fruit was at its peak of popularity as a fancy confection. Whole pears with their skin on were coated with a sticky clear syrup, which was allowed to solidify into a crystalline layer; the pears became shiny, looking like jewels, especially when served on silver dishes. Sadly, in recent years, it is more common to hear the appellative in a negative context, describing a mischievous character as not being a “perita en dulce.”
I was thrilled to find my pambazos featured on Fiesta Friday, thank you Angie, Zeba and Debanita for co-hosting! This week, I am bringing my pears for dessert to Fiesta Friday #242 hosted by Angie @ Fiesta Friday and guest co-hosts Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Jen @ Apply To Face Blog.