In Chinese culture, pears are a traditional symbol of longevity and fidelity. Moreover, their appeal extends beyond the grave, to the dead who cannot forget the pleasure they brought. Thus, I was told as a child never to bring home pears on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, for at that time ghosts were roaming the earth seeking pears, among other things. So, on that day the pears might contain ghosts who would bring bad luck into the house. It was quite believable to me at the time.
Pears also traditionally bring happiness, and this means that they should be eaten whole, never divided. Chinese pears are quite different from Western ones, being round and crisp like apples, rather than the soft and pear-shaped fruit with which we are most familiar.
In Chinese cuisine, the pear is most often cooked and served as part of a soup. In this French-inspired recipe, however, the pears are poached with ginger, resulting in a delicious, refreshing dessert. For a richer dessert, serve it with cream or a compatible ice-cream.
In using a wok to make this dessert, switch to a non-reactive one, that is, a non-stick wok. A basic carbon steel wok will react to the acid from the lemon and may lose its seasoning.
Peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the core and seeds. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice on the pears and mix well. Combine the sugar, water, vanilla pod and fresh ginger in a non-stick wok and boil the mixture together until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the pears, cover and simmer over a low heat for 20-25 minutes or until they are tender. The cooking time will depend on the ripeness of the pears.
When the pears are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon together with the vanilla pod and ginger slices. Over a high heat, reduce the liquid to a syrup by boiling it fast. Discard the ginger slices, but keep the vanilla pod and, when it dries, put it in sugar to keep for future use.
Pour the syrup over the pears and serve at once. Alternatively, you can let the mixture cool, cover it with cling film and chill until you are ready to serve it.
© 1996 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.