Wednesday January 23rd 2008, 1:38 pm

A British Comice pear

I’ve never had much time for pears and have always managed to pass them by in the supermarket even when I have been perusing the apples in the niche beside them. It is always great when you discover a passion for something that has just never occurred to you before and in the autumn me and pears fell in love.
A few miles up the road from my house, for five or six weeks in the autumn, a sign appears by the roadside to let it be known that plums, apples and pears are for sale if you care to pull in. I now know to pull in pretty sharpish or else before you know it the sign disappears and you are left thinking, I really did mean to…. next year I really will.
Anyhow, this time I called in to buy plums but there were several varieties of pears on offer as well and I bought some. Of course the big turn-off with pears is that you have to buy them in an unripe state then wait to catch them at just the right moment as they ripen. In this instance, the age old trick played on new apprentices sent to the store room to ask for a ‘long wait’ serves a purpose. I have read that pears need to ripen at home for 3 – 4 days. It has taken me more like 3 – 4 weeks to ripen comice pears so they are just right.
In my quest for pear recipes I have found a custard pear pudding recipe that ticks all the boxes. I now have no excuse to ever waste any fruit again and this pudding is so great it is dangerous (for anyone who has problems with portion control). Here it is.
I’ve also made chocolate and pear jam, my own concoction based on a preserve my neighbours brought back from France for me as a present. When I have perfected the recipe I will post it here, it just needs a bit of tweaking first but is almost there. Believe me, it is perfect on warm croissants for breakfast.
I am not generally a fan of stickers on fruit but have to admit a liking for the Union Jack on British pears, which can still be found in the supermarkets and should be around until the end of February – March time. The shop at the side of the road wont be putting out the sign again until next September.

Pear Custard Pudding

Monday January 14th 2008, 12:32 pm

Sourdough barm bread

Over the last few days I’ve been busy baking. I first began making sourdough bread last year starting my leaven starter from scratch. Baking for me has always been a comforting activity and I would consider myself experienced at bread baking, but sourdough baking is quite different and requires a different approach. Life was already pretty stressful and growing and feeding the starter almost tipped me over the edge. My sourdough adventure very nearly became a sourdough nightmare.
Years ago I remember a Paddington bear animation on TV where he is making porridge that keeps expanding, oozing its way over the top of the pan and down the side of the cooker until it all goes out of control and the porridge engulfs his house. This cartoon image was one that came to mind many times over those first few weeks. I was using expensive organic flour to feed the leaven and couldn’t bring myself to throw any of it away as day by day it expanded and seemed to take on a life of its own. Then I started to make it into bread and the dough was wet and unmanageable. In the middle of the night I’d be on the forum on Dan Lepard’s website trying to find the key that would make my baking comfort blanket wrap me up all warm and cosy again.
Well, I am nothing if not persistent and I was determined to crack it. Hydration, hydration, hydration I began to chant. I bought some digital scales and measured everything with precision and then it all started to fall into place. I am still not sure that my ‘kneading’ technique is quite like Dan Lepard’s but I can now turn wet sticky dough into a posh loaf, perhaps not yet the smartest-looking artisan bread but not far off.
This morning, for breakfast, I had a slice of the ‘best barm bread ever’ spread with organic butter and homemade damson jam. I closed my eyes and savoured the taste as I was eating it, appreciating every moment. If it wasn’t for the fact that my espresso machine broke last week life would have, for that moment, been pretty damn near perfect.