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.


    1. What a horrible thought. I’m only a fan of very selective culinary time travel – nothing featuring alarming stews or offal.

  1. Astounding colour. How could the comestibles not be delicious when the photos are so exquisite. The first super-saturated one looks almost like the solarisation (with B & W pictures) that Man Ray got up to. I think its the pear crisp that does it or was it Photoshop? The new large format pics greatly improve on the smaller ones the old Blogger site necessitated.

    1. I’m so happy that you approve of the new format. In fact, there’s no Photoshop manipulation here, or saturation trickery. I used natural lighting too, but the real difference to the brightness of the colour comes from the use of a simple silver reflector – a fantastically useful accessory.

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