Nigel Slater/ baked pear recipes (2024)

I love how the contents of my shopping bag changes colour with the seasons. Right now it is all copper, bronze and rust flashed here and there with smoky green and blue. There are deep red Belle de Boskoop apples the size of my fist; deep purple red cabbage with a bloom of dusky grey, and almost petrol blue cavolo nero to accompany some fatty pork chops. But most of all, it is the paper bags of pears that I am marvelling at right now, dumpy Doyenne du Comice, elegantly freckled Conference and Williams – flushed with the colours of an autumn sky.

No matter how hard we search, we will rarely find more than a handful of the hundreds of varieties of pears in existence. Even dedicated fruit stalls rarely manage more than two or three. It is a frustration for someone who ranks pears as some of the finest fruits we have to offer. Yes, they are less robust than other tree fruits, the trees take longer to become viable and are often more difficult to deal with. But the real truth is that the pear has always been a little capricious.

An apple will hold itself at its peak for as much as a few weeks. The Worcesters I bought three weeks ago are as crisp and juicy as they were when I took them from their paper bag. Yet a pear may only be at its point of perfection for a day or two, the slide into over-ripeness can be sudden. Blink and your beloved pear has gone, well, pear-shaped.

Still, the idea of watching something slowly ripen rather appeals to me. The early morning squeeze of the ripening fruit (actually it's more of a press and a stroke), as my coffee is dripping through, is more rewarding than reading the back of a cornflake packet. You can feel your fruit progressing. And the day you realise your pear is ready to eat is something of a tiny celebration.

I don't mind a crisp pear if I am in the mood. Sometimes I even like them hard and astringent, when they can be very good with a nutty cheese. But most times I will let them ripen to a consistency just short of sorbet. You will know the best place in your own home for ripening fruits, but I have always used the coolest place in the house rather than the warmest, allowing the peach, plum or pear to ripen slowly, rather than be hurried along with impatience. They can be speeded up in a paper bag with another ripe fruit, if you are the impatient type.

A recent trip to one of the Royal Horticultural Shows at Vincent Square brought platefuls of pears to admire and wonder over. Frustrated at merely caressing them, I was sorely tempted to dig out my penknife and cut into the most sumptuous looking of them. From the almost black to the softest peach colour, they would have looked a treat on any fruit stall but even more interesting in my kitchen. Time to plant another tree I think.


Perry is an astonishing drink – refreshing, dry and fruity. It is something to drink chilled with a meal (I think I might use it at my Christmas lunch this year), but is also something that I use in the kitchen, too. A small bottle upended into a pot roast will ensure a moist result and leave you with a decent amount of fruity pot juices to spoon over. Serves 4, with some left for cold.

2 tbsp olive or groundnut oil
a lump of pork on the bone, about 1.5kg in weight
a large onion
4 large pears
a couple of bay leaves
400ml perry or cider
3 tbsp mild honey or maple syrup
mashed potato and braised red cabbage, to serve

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. In a deep, heavy pan warm the oil over a lively heat and add the pork, generously salt and peppered. Let the meat colour a little – it should be pale gold here and there – then turn it so the other sides take on a little colour, too.

Peel the onion, slice it fairly thinly then add it to the pot. While it softens, slice the pears thickly, removing the cores as you go. I see no reason to peel them. Add the pears, bay leaves and perry or cider and the honey or maple syrup to the pot with a little salt and black pepper. Cover with a lid and bake for 50 minutes to an hour.

Serve in thin slices with the pears and the thin, delicious juices, some mashed potato and perhaps a little braised red cabbage.


Cakes like these, where the sugar and butter are creamed together first before the other ingredients are added, are so much easier to make when the butter is soft rather than straight from the fridge. It's a small point but one that will make life much easier. Serves 8.

100g butter, softened
50g golden caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
3 large eggs
2 tbsp of milk
a couple of drops of vanilla extract

for the pears:

450g ripe pears
20g butter
a couple of pinches of cinnamon
3 tbsp maple syrup

Nigel Slater/ baked pear recipes (2)

Line the base of a deep 20cm baking tin with baking paper. Peel, core and chop the pears. The pieces should be quite small, about 1cm square. Put them into a shallow pan with the butter and cinnamon and let them soften for 10-12 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring from time to time so they do not burn. Pour in the maple syrup, let the mixture bubble up briefly then remove from the heat. The pears should continue cooking until they are sticky and deep golden. Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4.

Put the butter and sugars into the bowl of a food mixer and beat till pale and thick. They need to be the colour of milky coffee. Sieve the flour and baking powder together. (I don't normally suggest sieving flour but it is essential when you are incorporating baking powder, to ensure it is evenly distributed.) Add the almonds to the flour. Beat the eggs and milk in a small bowl with a fork then add to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, alternating with the flour and almonds. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Tip the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top. Spoon the pears and any remaining syrup over the cake mixture. It will gradually sink on cooking to make a sticky layer further down.

Bake for 40 minutes or till golden and lightly firm. Serve warm, in thick slices with cream and a little more maple syrup.★

Nigel Slater/ baked pear recipes (2024)
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