1 tablespoon lemon juice
Water for acidulated mixture**
4 to 6 firm ripe (not soft) Pears with stems (Bosc, Bartlett, Anjou, or Comice)**
1 cup Champagne or white wine***
5 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-inch piece vanilla bean (split lengthwise) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
Peel of one orange, cut into 4 to 6 pieces
2 whole cloves
Mint leaves for garnish
* Acidulated water is water to which a small amount of vinegar, lemon, or lime juice has been added. It is used as a soak to prevent discoloration of some fruits and vegetables that darken quickly when their cut surfaces are exposed to air.
** Choose perfectly ripe pears to make poached pears. If the pears are overripe, they will be too soggy. If underrip, the pears will not poach well. Pears ripen from the inside out, so as soon as the stem end has a slight give to it, the fruit is ripe.
*** Water may be substituted for the champagne or white wine.
In a large bowl, combine lemon juice and enough water to cover pears. Core the pears throught the bottom using a melon baller. Peel pears, leaving stems intact, and cut a thin slice from bottom of each to enable pear to stand upright when served. Place the pears in the acidulated water to keep from browning while you are getting everything else ready.
In a large pan (large enough to hold the pears either laying on their sides or standing upright), add champagne, water, and sugar; bring just to a boil. Add salt, vanilla bean or vanilla extract, cinnamon stick, orange peel, and cloves.
Remove pears from acidulated water and arrange on their sides in poaching liquid; add enough additional water as necessary to just cover pears.
Cover pan with a smaller-sized lid, making sure that it rests directly on the pears (the smaller lid keeps the pears submerged, thus guaranteeing even cooking). Reduce heat to low and simmer, turning them occasionally, approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until the pears are tender (judge the tenderness of pears by probing carefully with a thin bladed knife - it should meet little resistance). Do not poach for too long as the pears will quickly disintegrate to mush.
When done, carefully transfer the pears with a slotted spoon to their serving dishes; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Strain the cinnamon stick, orange peel, and cloves from the poaching liquid; reserve orange peel. Increase heat to medium-high and boil liquid approximately 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to 3/4 to 1 cup and slightly syrupy (watch carefully so it does not burn). Remove from heat and refrigerate sauce until ready to serve.
To serve, pour approximately 1/4 cup syrup over each chilled pear. Garnish with the orange peels (they are now candied and can be eaten) and a sprig of mint leaves.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.