In the past, my mum has fallen out of love with magazines whose ‘plum special’ is published a month after she’s used up all of her plums.
So she was delighted when she picked up the latest issue of the Sainsbury magazine – as their pickled pear recipe perfectly coincided with some serious head-scratching about what to do with her first lot of windfalls.
I was excited about this recipe too. Firstly, because I’ve been predicting a jarring and pickling resurgence for some time now. And secondly – because I love pickles of all shapes and sizes. From much-maligned (some would say downright anti-social) pickled eggs and pickled onions, to chutneys and kimchi and liqueurs.
I love the alchemy of something sitting in a jar, and changing its entire being over time. And I love the unpredictability of the taste, as you finally pop off the lid and see what the once-fresh fruit has become. There’s something wonderful, and a little gross and a bit Hunterian Museum about it…
Pickled body parts do not make a good lunchtime conversation though. So while we enjoyed the pickled pears in a salad this afternoon, Mum and I mulled over other pear-preparations instead.
Often, a salad which uses pears, will use peeled and cored pears which are otherwise raw. But the texture can be unpredictable, and occasionally pappy, and they have a tendency to colour once the skin comes off. The other option is to cook – or caramelise – the pears. But if you’re serving the salad as, say, a starter for twelve people, then it’s a bit of a faff, and an annoying creation of more washing-up.
And so we concluded that pickled pears are an excellent option. They have a more complex taste, a more reliable texture, and all you have to do is take them out of a jar and cut them into strips.
Mum has very kindly given me a jar to take back to London. And as I know that I won’t be back from work before 9pm for the next three weeks, I’m really grateful to have something so quick and easy to whip out for a little late salad. It really did take 3 minutes to put together.
Now, it’s naughty to reproduce recipes, but mum’s second (and, in our opinion, improved) batch of the pickled pears included a couple of tweaks from the Sainsburys original, so I’ve written a revised version below.
450 granulated sugar
750ml cider vinegar
4 strips pared lemon rind
4 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 pinch of saffron
10 ripe, but firm pears – peeled, quartered and cored
1. Put the sugar and vinegar into a large pan, and add the lemon rind, cinnamon, and coriander ‘botanicals’. Heat, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
2. Add the saffron, and the pear slices.
3. Bring to the boil, and allow to simmer for just 30 seconds, to 1 minute. No longer, as the pears will start to lose their shape.
4. Ladle into 4 x 500ml jars, with a the ‘botanicals’ equally divided between the jars.
Cool, and then keep in the fridge. Use within a month.
Pickled Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad
4-8 walnut halves per plate
1 handful of lightly-dressed salad leaves, per plate
2-4 pickled pear slices, per plate
1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese, per plate
1. Lightly toast the walnuts in the oven, or in a frying pan on the hob for 1 – 2 minutes. The idea is not to darken them, but just to allow them to heat until they release their full aromas.
2. Put the salad leaves in the middle of the plate. And then top with the pickled pears, blue cheese and walnuts.
NB. I purposefully didn’t serve this salad with a heavy dressing or sauce, because I don’t think that it enhances such a light salad with beautifully crisp flavours. The ‘dressed leaves’ were very briefly tossed in 2 tablespoons of oil : 1 tablespoon pickling juice mixture.