Faster than the Speed of a Poached Pear

The news that sci­ent­ists have recor­ded sub­atomic particles trav­el­ling faster than the speed of light has been greeted with aston­ish­ment. I’m no doubt miss­ing out a mil­lion links in the sci­entific chain here, but in its simplest form it shoots craters into Albert Einstein’s sac­red prin­ciple that noth­ing travels faster than light. It might be pos­sible to watch these particles, known as neut­ri­nos, leav­ing after they’ve arrived in the place where we’ve already seen them. Roughly trans­lated, it raises the pos­sib­il­ity of going back­wards in time.

Time travel is some­thing cooks have been able to do for gen­er­a­tions of course. Noth­ing will trans­port you back to a moment in your child­hood, a summer’s day or a per­fect birth­day, like the taste and aroma of the food that you ate at those golden moments.

Without fail, the sight of a poached pear takes me back to Italy circa 1991. A softly spoken, eld­erly chef called Benito told me that the only way to check if a poached pear is per­fectly cooked is to pierce it with the quill of a wild Umbrian por­cu­pine. To make sure that I’d always cook per­fect pears in future, he gave me a quill as a present. (Benito didn’t speak a single word of Eng­lish, so it’s per­fectly pos­sible that I com­pletely mis­un­der­stood him and that what he was really say­ing was that the sharp point of a por­cu­pine quill is the per­fect weapon to attack people steal­ing pears from your tree.)

This morn­ing, I was trans­por­ted back to my con­ver­sa­tion with Benito when I found some beau­ti­ful Con­corde pears at the market.

So, com­pletely unaided and without a single neut­rino in sight, I take you back 20 years. Until neut­ri­nos really prove their stuff, this is the finest time travel I know — the culin­ary kind.


Serves 4

For the Poached Pears

  • 4 ripe, firm pears such as concorde
  • 300ml red wine
  • 100ml water
  • 1 cin­na­mon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 80g caster sugar

Peel the pears, slice a piece off the bot­tom so they will stand up straight once cooked, Remove the core from under­neath, or leave it in if you prefer. Com­bine all the other ingredi­ents in a pan, heat until the sugar is dis­solved and then add the peeled pears. Make a car­touche out of greaseproof paper. This is simply a circle of paper the same dia­meter as the pan with a small circle cut out of the middle to allow steam to escape. Press the car­touche onto the pears to keep them in the liquid as they cook. Sim­mer gently for around an hour, until the point of a knife, or a por­cu­pine quill of course, slides in eas­ily. Allow the pears to cool in the poach­ing liquid. When the pears are cool, remove them from the liquid. Reduce the liquid to a rich syrup.

For the Pear Crisps

  • I pear
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 table­spoon lemon juice
  • 100ml water

Heat the oven to 110 degrees C. Boil the water, pour into a bowl and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until dis­solved. Slice the pear finely using a man­dolin if you have one, or a very sharp knife. Dip the slices in the sugar water. Bake in the oven on a tray lined with bak­ing paper for around 1.5 hours, until the slices are dried out, but not yet brown.

For the But­ter­scotch Ice-Cream


  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 170g brown sugar
  • 50ml water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 150ml cream
  • 225g cream
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 475g semi skimmed milk
  • 8 egg yolks

First make the but­ter­scotch, by com­bin­ing the but­ter, sugar, salt and water. Sim­mer for 15 minutes, until the col­our darkens to a pale car­a­mel brown. Keep stir­ring so that it doesn’t burn. Take off the heat and stir in the cream. It will bubble and churn up. Put to one side to cool.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they become pale, creamy and form trails when you lift the whisk and let the mix­ture drip into the bowl. This is called the ‘rib­bon stage’. Com­bine the cream and milk and bring almost to the boil.

Whisk a spoon­ful of the cream mix­ture into the egg and then trans­fer the egg mix­ture into the pan of cream. Keep whisk­ing con­stantly to avoid it turn­ing to scrambled eggs. Con­tinue to heat gently and when the cus­tard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. sieve the mix­ture onto the but­ter­scotch, stir well and pour into a chilled bowl to cool down. Once cold, churn in an ice-cream maker.

Assemble the pear, crisp, ice-cream and syrup. While you eat, spec­u­late about the pos­sib­il­ity of eat­ing poached pears which haven’t been made yet. That way you get to eat them before the washing-up even exists.