Tuesday, January 26, 2010

an alternative Burns Supper and spiced poached pears

BB and some other friends were helping Mini-B vaccinate his cows yesterday (new readers of this blog could be forgiven for thinking that BB's profession involves working with animals!) after which we received an impromptu invitation to lunch chez le berger (the shepherd) and his wife, who recently moved to our village. It's such a comforting word, "shepherd", don't you think? -  like a pair of elasticated-waisted trousers or a soft baby blanket with a rolled-over satin edge for drooling on.

(It's also the protagonist of one of my favourite books The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho which I've just retrieved from my bookshelves and on the back cover the publicity spiel says: "Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever" - and as implausible and Disneyesque as that sounds, it did for me. It was after reading this book that I sat down and revisited my Great Ambitions and directly ended up living in a foreign country, doing up an old watermill with BB.)

BB called and gave me two minutes' warning before coming to pick me up - enough time to apply a slick of SPF 20 Piz Buin and pull on my wellies and a ski hat - and we were off, bottle of wine and a saucisson (won in the belote competition on Saturday night) in hand. When we got to the little wooden chalet, down a deep-rutted goat track rendered almost impassable by snow, eight of us sat down in the cosy kitchen at the ancient pine table - nicked and scarred like a thousand criss-crossing railway tracks - and mucked in peeling apples, chopping vegetables, slicing sausage, jiggling their cute seven month-old baby and keeping the tiny Border Collie pups away from the food.

While we were peeling chopping and jiggling we nibbled on thin slices of locally-made spicy saucisson flavoured with beetroot with our apéros - that cured, often horse-shoe-shaped sausage much beloved of the French. Then lunch began with a homemade pâté de campagne with big hunks of rustic bread and cornichons, followed by aromatic vegetable lasagne spiced with turmeric, cardamom, fresh ginger and garlic and then in an inadvertent (and  for me nostalgic) nod to the fact it was Burns Night, boudin noir aux pommes - black pudding served with caramelized apple wedges.

After cheese, coffee and digestives, we waddled off home, our cheeks suffused with the warm rosy glow of contentment.

I made these spiced poached pears the other day with some pears I found lurking at the bottom of the fridge, which BB said tasted "just as good, if not better, than tinned pears" - which I think was a complement.
Spiced poached pears

These are based on a Delia recipe for spiced pickled pears but I used red wine and more spices. These are delicious served cold, with crème fraîche.

For 6
6 hard pears
12 fl oz/330 ml cider vinegar
12 fl oz/330 ml red wine
4 oz/110 g sugar
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp juniper berries crushed

Peel the pears, leaving the stalks intact and place all the other ingredients in a flameproof casserole and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Place the pears in the liquid on their side and cover with a lid and place in the oven for 30 minutes at 375°F/190°C.

After 30 minutes turn the pears over and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove and cool in the liquid until required.


Pamela Holderman said...

Oh you paint such a beautiful picture with your words. I feel like I was there. thanks...

Jen S. said...

Gorgeous pears. And it sounds like a gorgeous meal at the shepherd's.

megan said...

I am going to try the pears tonight...will do my best to find juniper berries at my local public market.. Cheers!


Sarah said...

Megan, If you can't find juniper berries I wouldn't worry. You could add something else like cinnamon or some other spice - it's just to jazz it up a bit.

megan said...

I am going to play around with fresh cranberries and orange rind... I know I can get those in the market! Now to pack the toddlers into the car!

Banu said...

these look lovely and festive. Thanks for the great recipe!

Pierce said...

What wonderful photography skills you have. This is so pretty! Love the recipes I have been browsing on your site...the churros, and scotch eggs...yumm!

Sarah said...

Pamela, Jen, Banu, Pierce - thanks for your comments.

Hils said...

I can almost taste, feel and smell your blog!...Love it!

megan said...

Made the Pears, so simple... They baked while we ate and were ready shortly there after... Thanks for the inspiration.

Sarah said...

Megan, I'm happy they worked out for you.

Kaycie said...

I love how "le bergère" rolls off the tongue in French. It sounds so comforting to me.

But it also always reminds me of La Femme du Boulanger (1938 film/Marcel Proust.

Megan Carroll said...

Hi, Thanks for the inspiration, this is what I did with it!