Pears with Vanilla Ice-Cream and Spicy Chocolate Sauce

I have known Hannah as long as I can remember. My father, Tony, and Hannah’s mother, Margaret, used to do ‘fire watching’ from the rooftop of Manchester University at the end of World War II, and the two families have remained close friends ever since. Recently, Hannah’s father, Peter, ‘came out’ as having been a spy during the war. He is now allowed to talk about it as he has been released from his sworn secrecy after 50 years. He worked for MI6 (British Intelligence Services), sending coded messages back to the UK from Addis Ababa, Izmir and Istanbul. This is Hannah’s recipe, passed down from Margaret, who got it from Elizabeth David and, as recipes do, it has evolved on the way.


For Version 1 (the tame one)

  • 4–6 Williams pears
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 100 g sugar
  • ½ bottle of good dry white wine
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 6 whole green cardamom pods

For Version 2 (The Spicy One)

  • 4–6 Conference pears
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 100 g sugar
  • bottle of good full-bodied red wine
  • 1 whole chilli pepper
  • piece of cinnamon
  • 5–6 cloves
  • 2–3 star anise
  • 1–2 cardamom pods

To Serve


Peel the pears but leave whole with stalks intact. Cover the pears with lemon juice. In a heavy pan, dissolve the sugar in the wine and add the lemon zest and vanilla and cardamom or chilli and spices. Add the pears and cook gently until really tender. (You may have to weight them with a heatproof plate to keep them submerged.) Test the pears with a sharp knife, as cooking time can vary from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the ripeness and variety. When you remove the pears from the liquid, boil it down to a syrupy liquid. Eat warm or cold, with the syrup, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream.