Pears have an affinity with many ingredients - sweet, savoury or spicy - and work well in diverse dishes, from breakfasts and sumptuous salads to pickles, pork and puds.
This is a fruit gifted with such a rich, natural flavour that simply poaching it is often the best thing you can do. Here sweet spices coax out its inherent caramel notes.
Serves 4 4 William pears (not too ripe) 600ml water 250g caster sugar A generous pinch of saffron strands 5cm piece of cinnamon stick 5 green cardamom pods 2 star anise
1 Peel the pears, leaving the stems on, and put them in a bowl of water to prevent discolouration. Put the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan in which the pears will just fit upright. Slowly bring to the boil, swilling to dissolve the sugar.
2 Simmer the syrup for 5 minutes, allowing the flavours to develop. Add the pears, reduce the heat and poach for 15-20 minutes covered, until the pears are tender, but still slightly firm. Remove from the poaching liquid and leave to cool.
Pears and dark chocolate are firm friends and nowhere is that clearer than in this beauty of a bake, the fruit soft and sweet and steeped in liqueur. Serve with a splash of good custard or a cloud of whipped cream.
1 Preheat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3½. Grease and line a 23cm round deep cake tin.
2 Peel, core and cut the pears into eighths. Arrange them core-side down in a fanned circle at the bottom of the tin.
3 Put a pan on the heat with a little water in it and set a heatproof bowl over it. Break up the chocolate and melt together with the butter in the bowl.
4 While that's melting, beat the eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Stir in the melted chocolate then carefully fold in the ground almonds.
5 Tip the batter into the tin and bake for 45-50 minutes. Use a skewer to test the centre to check that it is baked through. As soon as it comes out of the oven, pour the Poire William liqueur all over the top and leave it to cool in the tin.
6 To serve, gently loosen the cake all around with a knife then place a plate on top of the tin. Holding them together firmly with both hands, flip the tin and plate over so that the plate is underneath and the cake can slip down on to it.
A British take on the French classic, but made instead with pears. Comice are among the sweetest and juiciest pears and hold their shape beautifully when cooked. The star anise buried in the butter gives a subtle hint of spice. You need to prepare the pears a day before you want to serve.
Serves 4 70g unsalted butter 2 star anise 70g sugar 4 comice pears, peeled, cored and quartered, then left in the fridge uncovered overnight to dry out 100g puff pastry Flour for dusting
1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Spread the butter evenly over the base of a 20cm ovenproof frying pan and press the star anise into it. Then cover evenly with the sugar, and arrange the pears on the top, cut-side up.
2 Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured board to about 3mm thickness, trying to keep the shape as circular as possible; it should end up larger in circumference than the pan with the pears. Lay the pastry over the pears, tucking in any excess between the pears and the pan.
3 Put the pan over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes to start the process of caramelising the pears, then transfer the pan to the oven for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and oozing stickiness. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 5 minutes to cool a little.
4 Put a large upturned plate over the pan and carefully invert the pan and plate together so that the tart drops down on to the plate (do this quickly as the caramelised juices are very hot). Retrieve and discard the star anise. Serve warm with good vanilla ice-cream.
1 Begin the day before you want to eat the muesli. Stir together the oats, barley and rye in a large bowl and pour over the pear juice. Stir well to mix in. Cover the bowl and leave to soak overnight in the fridge.
2 At breakfast time, grate the pears and stir into the soaked grains, then crush half the blueberries and spoon into four bowls, swirl through the yoghurt and top with the remaining blueberries.
1 Preheat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3½. Season the pork with plenty of salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large casserole pot and sear the pork until browned on all sides.
2 Remove the pork. Add the onions, celery and carrots, and gently cook for about 7 minutes until they are starting to soften.
3 Add the rest of the ingredients, mixing in well, then put the pork on top. Put a lid on the casserole dish and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 5 hours until the gravy is rich and thick and the pork is tender and just about to fall apart when touched.
4 Remove from the oven, turn the heat up to 200C/400F/gas mark 6, then put just the pork back into the oven for the skin to crisp up. Once the crackling is golden, remove from the oven, pull the pork apart and serve with the roasted pear gravy.
Another pork and pear idea here - the fruit is the perfect foil to the saltiness of the cured meat and sharpness of the leaves, with creamy cheese elevating it to something really special. If you happen to have chestnut honey in your pantry, this is the time to use it. Otherwise, ordinary runny honey is fine.
Serves 4 2 pears, cored and cut into wedges Juice of ½ lemon 1 shallot, finely sliced 1 tbsp honey 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve A pinch of salt 1 head radicchio, broken into leaves 12 slices speck 250g goat's cheese, crumbled/broken into chunks 60g roasted walnuts
1 In a large bowl, toss the pears with the lemon juice. Mix together the shallot, honey and olive oil. Add to the pears with some salt, and gently combine.
2 Mix in the radicchio leaves and transfer to a large platter.
3 Drape the speck over the salad and dot with the goat's cheese. Crush the walnuts over the top with your hands and drizzle with olive oil.
This recipe delights with its sheer unexpectedness: tomato and pear with spicy red meat works marvellously in this Middle-Eastern dish.
Makes 12 balls with plenty of delicious sauce For the meatballs 250g minced lamb 250g minced beef 1 large onion, peeled and grated (about 200g) 2 garlic cloves, peeled and grated or finely chopped 30g (2 tbsp) breadcrumbs 1 tsp smoky paprika ½ tsp chilli flakes or cayenne pepper 1 tsp harissa paste (or Turkish acı biber salçası, if you can get hold of it) ½ tsp salt A pinch of white pepper A pinch of ground cinnamon
For thesauce 2 tbsp olive oil The rest of the head of garlic, peeled and chopped ½ tsp salt 5 tbsp tomato puree (about 80g) 1 tbsp harissa paste (or acı biber salçası) 1 tsp smoky paprika ½ cinnamon stick 2 bay leaves 1 tbsp demerara sugar 2 strips of lemon peel (use a peeler) 100ml lemon juice 750ml water 2 large pears, cored and cut in thick wedges
1 Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
2 Mix all the meatball ingredients together in a bowl and form into 12 balls of roughly 50g each. Put on a lightly oiled baking tray in the centre of the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
2 While the meatballs are cooking, put the olive oil, chopped garlic and salt in a large saucepan on a medium-high heat and fry for about 2 minutes, stirring all the while, until a strong garlicky smell emerges and the garlic begins to stick to the pan (it should not colour). Add the tomato puree, harissa, spices, bay leaves, sugar and lemon peel and mix well. Keep stirring and cooking until everything begins to stick to the bottom of the pan again (about 4-5 minutes), then stir in the lemon juice and bring to the boil. Once it is boiling, pour in the water, stir well and bring back to the boil.
3 By now your meatballs should be just about ready to jump into the sauce. Tip them in along with all the juices that have come out of them - there's tons of flavour there. Bring the sauce to the boil again, then reduce the heat to a minimum, cover and leave to cook slowly for an hour.
4 Add the pairs and cook for 15 minutes more on a low heat without the lid on, in order to reduce the liquid slightly. When it's ready, the sauce should resemble a thick soup.
5 Serve with white rice, couscous or some lovely soft bread, such as milk rolls.
Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, Honey and Co (Saltyard Books)
Chicory boats with pear, stilton and cranberry jam
A wedge of ripe fruit atop a bitter chicory leaf with a crumble of sharp salty blue and a blob of sour sweet jam - all the taste elements of true umami in a canape that is as fresh as it is good-looking.
Serves 6 2 heads chicory, leaves separated and trimmed at the base 1 ripe pear, conference are a nice British variety - or even better concorde pears! Now in season at Brambletye farm 50g stilton
For thecranberry jam 80g sugar-free, apple-sweetened dried cranberries 1 star anise 30ml red wine Zest and juice of ½ orange - you can add the pulp too if you have a strong blender A pinch of salt and black pepper ½ tsp maple syrup A tiny pinch of ground nutmeg 150ml water
1 First make the jam. Simmer all the jam ingredients together in a pan with the lid on for 10 minutes until it thickens to a jam-like consistency. Blitz everything with a handheld blender and set aside.
2 Lay out the chicory leaves on a platter. Peel the pear, cut in half and slice thinly lengthways. Lay a slice of pear in the bottom of each chicory "boat" and crumble the stilton over. Finish with a few dots of cranberry jam to serve. Any leftover jam can be stored in the fridge and served with a cheese board.
Apples and pears with fresh mint, dried fruit and warming spice make for an excellent breakfast salad.
Serves 6 200g caster sugar 500g medium bulgur wheat or couscous 200ml apple or orange juice A handful of dates, stoned and chopped 2 apples, unpeeled and chopped 2 pears, peeled and chopped 1 large handful stewed apricots or figs A pinch of ground cinnamon 1 handful chopped fresh mint (optional) Sugar, honey or lemon juice, to taste
1 Put the sugar in a saucepan with 500ml water and bring to the boil over a gentle heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Set aside until the syrup is warm rather than hot.
2 Put the bulgur wheat in a bowl with the apple or orange juice and the warm syrup and leave to stand for about 2 hours, until all the moisture is absorbed and the bulgur wheat has softened.
3 Drain off any excess liquid. Add the dates, apples, pears, apricots or figs, cinnamon and the mint if you're using it.
4 Mix well and add sugar, honey or lemon juice to taste. Serve at room temperature.
An old-fashioned condiment that's making a comeback, this masterful version includes pears for a sweetness of extra depth and roundness.
Makes 5 x 340g jars 1 cauliflower 1 red onion 100g fine green beans 225g courgettes 3 tbsp sea salt 450ml white wine vinegar 125g unrefined granulated sugar 45g cornflour 2 tsp turmeric 2 tsp mustard powder 1 tsp brown mustard seeds ¼ tsp chilli flakes 1 tbsp honey 2 conference pears A thumb of root ginger
1 The day before, cut all the vegetables (but not the pears) neatly into small pieces. Wash, drain, place in a colander and cover with the salt. Cover and leave overnight in a cool spot in the kitchen.
2 Next day, clean the jam jars, then sterilise them. Whisk the vinegar, sugar, cornflour, spices and honey in a saucepan. Place on the heat and slowly bring to the boil, whisking as the sauce thickens. Continue to cook until you have a thickened sauce.
2 Rinse the salt from the vegetables and drain them well. Peel and chop the pears. Peel and grate the ginger.
3 Put the vegetables, pears and ginger in the sauce and return to the boil. Remove from the heat and put into the clean jars while still hot. Put the lids on tightly and keep in a cool spot for a month before consuming.