In season, my mother made these every week. They were the usual side dish to our Sunday dinner, not as a dessert, but as a ‘vegetable' accompaniment to our roast chicken or meat. Leftovers were generally served the following day as a dessert. As soon as I moved abroad I realized these were unavailable - yes indeed, unknown, anywhere else!! Most of my visits to Holland included a shopping trip for Dutch delicacies, and these pears were always in my suitcase when they were in season.
Research tells me that, while pears were already eaten by the Romans, the only pears that were available until the 16th century were varieties that needed to be cooked. We now have many different types of pears, some of which are specifically known to a particular country or area: Conference from England, d'Anjou from France, Comice (officially ‘Doyenne de Comice') also from France - and then there is the variety ‘Gieser Wildeman'. This no nonsense Dutch name denotes a pear firmly ensconced in Holland - and is suitable only to be eaten when cooked. It is a small brownish yellow pear, which is hard as a rock but will be transformed into a culinary delight by cooking.
Recipes for ‘stewed pears' can be found in many cookbooks, but none of them specifically mentions the type of pear to be used. They simply say ‘pears'...... Interesting is the fact that when searching the web for recipes for ‘stewing pears' time and time again the Dutch word ‘stoofpeertjes' pops up - so it apparently is a true Dutch dish. As an only exception I have found references in Australia to ‘stewing pear' varieties; since many Dutch people emigrated to Australia I suspect they brought their recipes, and their fruit, with them.
Here then, is the traditional Dutch recipe for this delicacy - with footnotes as to how my mother did it!
Stoofperen, dutch style
2 lbs small stewing pears
a piece of lemon rind with some cloves inserted
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp of dark brown sugar
1 cup of red wine (my mother used water)
½ cup of black currant liqueur (also known as Crème de Cassis) (my mother used black currant juice)
Peel the pears and leave whole (but we always cut them into quarters at home)
Put all the ingredients in a wide pan with a tight fitting lid, add water if necessary to just cover the pears. Bring to a boil, cover, then turn on the lowest setting possible and leave to simmer for two to four hours (VERY GENTLY - although I have to say I don't recall my mother ever burning them). They will have turned a deep cinnamon red when done.
Served at room temperature with roast meats or chicken, or delicious as a dessert with vanilla ice cream!
I intend to give this a try with some regular, plan old pears, and see what happens.
For completion's sake, here is another recipe which uses baked pears. From the baking time it is quite evident, though, that these are not the traditional Dutch stewing pears.
Roast pear and pancetta salad with honey vinaigrette (recipe courtesy of Yolanda Torrisi)
10 slices of pancetta (Italian style bacon)
2 small firm pears, halved
a bag (appr. 8 oz) of arugula salad
half a pound of parmesan cheese, shaved
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pears on a baking sheet with the cut side up. Sprinkle with thyme and pepper, and bake until soft, appr. 20 minutes. In the meantime, fry the pancetta until crisp and make the honey vinaigrette using:
½ cup honey, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp of wholegrain mustard, and ½ cup of red wine vinegar.
Put the arugula salad on a plate, top with the crisp pancetta, half a pear and some parmesan shavings. Drizzle the vinaigrette over it.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 13, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)