Autumn Harvest - Fall in love with pears

Monday, September 18, 2023

Autumn Harvest - Fall in love with pears

With the arrival of autumn, Ballymaloe House orchards burst with ripe apples and pears.  

‘Harvest is the most anticipated time of the year, various fruit is picked daily, but pears are my favourite. When perfectly ripe, they are glorious!’ says JR Ryall, Head Pastry Chef. Catching a pear at the ideal moment is not easy. The best way to test a pear for ripeness is to apply pressure very gently to the neck of the fruit, if it gives in just slightly it is ripe; if it is soft, it is past its best.

At Ballymaloe House Hote, we grow more than ten different pear varieties. Some are harvested early in the season, and develop their full flavour within a few days of picking. Later varieties are stored in a cool place and allowed to slowly ripen and develop their flavour over several weeks. 

The late-harvest varieties bring freshness to our dessert trolley from early winter through the holiday season in the lead-up to Christmas. For an opportunity to experience our dessert trolley, book in an Autumn Getaway hotel break with us.

Autumn Harvest - Fall in love with pears

Over the past decade, Hazel Allen and JR Ryall has kept a record of each pear at Ballymaloe House; recording when each variety is harvested, how long the pears take to ripen and the yield from each tree. Most of the pear trees around Ballymaloe House grow in the shelter of centuries-old limestone walls, on farm buildings and in the walled garden adjacent to the hotel. The old stone walls absorb the sun's heat, helping the fruit to ripen.

Josephine de Malines is one of the newer varieties planted in our garden, though it originated in the early 19th century, and is usually harvested in late October; it crops well and stores well, and the pears are very beautiful. Doyenne du Comice and Conference pears are widely available in shops and are good all-rounders. Other varieties such as Beurre Hardy, Concord, Josephine de Malines and Williams pears (also known as Williams’b on Chrétien, or Bartlett in the US) are also popular.

Autumn Harvest - Fall in love with pears

To celebrate the first anniversary of Ballymaloe Desserts, Iconic Recipes & Stories from Ireland by JR Ryall’s, we share our favourite pear recipe.

Pears Poached with Saffron and Cardamom 

On several occasions, the great chef Madhur Jaffrey has taught classes at the cookery school, and ever since she introduced us to this marvelous pear dish we have continued to make it for the dessert trolley. The beauty of this recipe is that the pears turn a heavenly golden colour as they poach, and all the while the heady aromas of saffron and cardamom permeate the fruit.

Note: You will only need a pinch of saffron threads (the dried stigmas of Crocus Sativus) to flavour and colour a pot of pears. A little goes a long way.

Start with less than you think might be needed, wait a minute for the saffron to infuse into the syrup and then taste, only adding more if necessary. Use too much of the precious spice and the flavour will be intense and over powering. Pears cooked this way store perfectly in the fridge for up to one week.

Serves 6

200g/7 oz (1 cup) sugar

450ml/15 fl oz (1 ⅔ cups + 2 tablespoons) water

6whole cardamom pods

¼ teaspoon best quality saffron threads, approximately

3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 ripe pears

Lightly crush the cardamom pods and put in a saucepan with the sugar, water, saffron and lemon juice. Place on a medium heat, stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. 

Meanwhile, peel the pears using a vegetable peeler. Try to preserve the natural shape of the fruit as you go. Slice each pear in half and use a melon baller to remove the part of the core that holds the seeds and, using a small knife, cut out the fibres that run down the center of each pear half. If the pears are small or medium in size, leave as halves, if they are large quarter them.

Add the pears to the simmering syrup. Cut a circle of parchment paper just large enough to fit the pot, cut a small opening in the center of the paper and cover the pears with it. Cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes or until the fruit is tender. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Arrange the pieces of pears in a single layer in a serving dish, cut side down, and pour over the golden saffron and cardamom syrup*. Serve chilled.

*For a more intense flavour, the syrup can be reduced and cooled again before pouring it over the arranged pear.

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