It’s a cold hard fact that if you buy fruit in the supermarket, you are very likely going to buy some unripe or tasteless specimens. It’s unavoidable. You get home with a bag of beautiful peaches or apricots, take a bite out of one… and carefully place the rest in a fruit bowl, where they will remain until they turn soft and fuzzy, when they will be moved to the garbage can.
Pears and bananas, on the other hand, actually ripen better off the tree. You just put bananas on the kitchen counter and wait. Pears need to be carefully wrapped in a piece of paper – newsprint, for instance – and put away in an undisturbed place for a few days, until they soften and ripen and turn fragrant. But most fruit – what you see is what you get.
So let us say you have bought some fruit that is disappointingly flavorless or unripe and isn’t likely to get any better. What to do? An easy solution is to poach the fruit in wine or fruit juice.
Here are some Bosc pears – harder and crisper than Anjou, Bartlett, or Comice, they are ideal for cooking (though any pear can be prepared this way).
First prepare a poaching liquid. I like to mix about 2 cups wine (red or white), 1 cup water, and 1/2 cup sugar, and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.
Peel and core the pears; as you do, drop them into the poaching liquid.
When all fruit is peeled, cored, and soaking in the wine, turn the heat up to a gentle simmer, and slowly cook the pears.
Test pears with the tip of a knife. When they are barely tender, remove to a bowl.
Reduce the wine by boiling rapidly until syrupy, then pour over the pears.
This makes an unusual light dessert, perfect year-round and appropriate to conclude a formal or casual meal. This is excellent with Asian or Indian food. These go very well with dark chocolate, nuts, really good cheese such a Manchego, aged Cheddar, or stinky Camembert, or barely-sweet shortbread cookies; a spoonful of sour cream, creme fraiche, or pour of heavy cream would be luscious too. Serve with a late-harvest wine or a thimble of armagnac. Or for a really recherché appetizer, serve cold poached fruit alongside pâté and crusty bread.
There are many, many possible variations. Of course the wine choices are endless – the fruit juice/wine mixtures sold bottled are good for this, as is port, sherry, Madeira, and Marsala. Add flavorings like a cinnamon stick, strip of lemon or orange peel, fennel seeds, star anise, vanilla bean, or a small dried hot pepper or teaspoon of black peppercorns. Swap out the wine for fruit juice or a mixture of juices (say, orange and pear, or pineapple and apple, or cherry and peach, or or or…). And virtually any fruit, ripe or not, can be prepared this way. Very ripe or delicate fruit (such as berries) just need to be prepped and placed in a bowl, then bathed with hot wine syrup.
Fine ripe fruit can also be placed in wine without cooking. A beautiful ripe peach or apricot is delicious when allowed to soak in fruity red wine for an hour or so. And a slice or two of unripe fruit in a glass of vino will improve the fruit and soften a harsh wine.