Historical Cooking, Week 7: Filled Pears

Thursday 24 November 2016

This week Catherine attempts to make Filled Pears using a recipe from book – the complete manuscript is available for viewing on our Digital Collections Portal

After last week’s predominance of mollusc-based protein we thought we’d try to fit in one of our ‘five fruit and vegetables a day’ and try a variation on a pear dessert: ‘filled pears’. Although the recipe seemed fairly simple on the one hand, it did feature a somewhat exhaustive array of cooking methods – it was not in fact clear whether the resulting pears would remain intact after being first ‘swollen’, fried and then poached…If in doubt, thought the cook, begin at the beginning…

The recipe as written in the manuscript
The recipe as written in the manuscript

Nim shone grose birn, shwöll sie wenig im grossen haffen…

Take good large pears, swell them a little in a large pot…

A trawl through the supermarket produced a wide variety of pears and the largest and firmest possible were selected for the recipe to prevent their falling apart.

Main ingredient
Main ingredients

The cook took ‘swell’ to mean ‘poach’ and the pears were first cooked gently in a little water for a few minutes. Given that they were truly rock hard to begin with, this seemed to have little effect except to soften the bottoms a bit, which made the next stage easier.

so hawe eine in den birn ein deckelin sambt den stil ab, dan hül sie wol aus…

then cut a lid including the stem from the pears, then hull them out well

Cutting the lid was easy enough but the cook lamented her lack of knife skills and wondered how the Renaissance chefs had managed to ‘hull out’ the pear flesh successfully. An apple corer might have helped but the cook was not sure if these would have been available to contemporary chefs.

Pears after preparation
Pears after preparation

The next step in the recipe seemed a little contradictory and the cook decided to use discretion in its application:

packe daβ vsgehülte von den birn rein

Put the pear flesh back in the pear…

Rather than re-inserting the chopped up pear flesh the cook decided to skip this step and continue as the recipe stipulates to fry it together with the other ingredients to make a kind of fruity bread-and-butter pudding mixture.

rösteβ im heissen ancken wol, röst auch brosinen brot besonder, dan wenig rosinli, zimet vnd zucker in die fülle die fülle in die birn gethan, decke dan die birn mit den birnen deckle an den stilen

cook in hot butter, also fry breadcrumbs, raisins, cinnamon and sugar in the hulled pear, put on the pear lid

Cooking the filling
Cooking the filling

The next step proved again a little tricky, as fitting all the mixture back into the pears proved a fruitless task (pardon the pun!) After the pear lids were replaced the pears were transferred back into the cook’s largest pan for the final stage. The pears were still very firm at this point so after melting the butter and adding the final ingredients they were left to poach for a good half hour.

ancken in ein breiten öhrigen haffen wenig zucker oder hunig darin, dan stelle die birn auf richt darin, auch ein glas vol wein darzu, stelle sie auf ein gluet algewach zu kochen… dan mit den haffen deckle wol zu gedeckt, so sie ein halb stund gebraten wenig geruckt daβ sie nit anbrinnen.

put butter in a wide [eared] pan, then place the pears upright inside, add a little sugar or honey, add a glass of wine, then place the pears on the fire to cook…cover the pan well with a lid, when they have roasted for half an hour move them a little so they don’t burn.

Pears poaching
Pears poaching

After half an hour the pears didn’t look very different but on removing them from the pan they were tender throughout. The cook was surprised the pears didn’t retain any of the flavour of the wine given the gentle poaching, but the cinnamon seemed a good addition. The cook’s assistant agreed they were tasty and a different way to get one of your ‘five a day’.

Passing the taste test
Passing the taste test

Catherine Hollebrandse

Skills for the Future Archival Trainee

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