This blog post was written by Jack Moore, SCRC Research Services Student Assistant. Jack has a double major in Political Science and Philosophy from Christopher Newport University. He is currently working on his Master’s in Biodefense at George Mason University.
This week’s Cookbook Corner took a recipe out of Cookbook for Two by Audrey P. Stehle, and it seems to be the start of what I know as the modern approach to cookbooks. As I mentioned before, a lot of the older cookbooks are written as pet projects to help a novice cook the author knew at the time. There are a lot of examples of notes and forewords along the lines of “Oh my dear Mary, you may be helpless in the kitchen, but we shall endeavor to save your marriage.” Cookbook for Two is intended for a large-scale commercial audience and reads as such. The fun stories and anecdotes are absent entirely and rather than general cooking tips, the book is a list of different recipes divided by category. While far less engaging than older examples, the recipes are more detailed and easier to implement. I would like to add, in defense of Mrs. Grier, that she was cooking over open flames, not a conventional electric oven. 425 for 25 minutes isn’t a viable metric for cooking in that style, no matter how helpful it would be for me now as I stare at my oven dials.
The recipe I chose for this week was Baked Pears with Sherry, which I believed would be a slam dunk for the easiest and best recipe yet. My father and older brother included baked pears at the holidays for a number of years, but they use port instead of sherry. Now, it’s important to note that while I talk about these different cooking alcohols with knowledge after making the recipe, I had no idea what either port or sherry were prior to this. I was certain that they were not wine, (swing and a miss on that guess) because I had heard people talking about port and wine as two different things before. Saying “port” and “sherry” out loud confirmed to me that they were not beers. Deeply scientific I know, but they just didn’t sound right, so I assumed they were probably some kind of liqueur. The specific version of sherry called for in this recipe was “cream sherry,” which led me to believe that I was looking for something along the lines of Irish cream.
Cream sherry is not like Irish cream in the slightest. Sherry is a sweet wine, and cream sherry is when different cheap vintages are mixed to improve the flavor. It is surprisingly uncommon and difficult to find outside of dedicated wine shops, and even then, it has a thin selection, so using normal sherry or port would work just as well. The purpose of the wine is to be soaked up by the pears. Pears lose some of their sweetness during the cooking process as the juice within them is expelled, and the wine replaces it. Therefore, if you prefer a specific sweet cooking wine, go with that instead.
The actual steps to the recipe are simple:
1: Slice the pears in half and remove the core
2: Place the pear halves into a baking dish
3: Combine the butter, almond extract, and almond slivers
4: Spoon the almond butter mixture into the hollowed-out core
5: Pour sherry over the top
6: Sprinkle sugar over the pears and bake
The problem I ran into is really with the central premise of the recipe. To absorb the most sherry to replace the lost sweetness, as much of the pear as possible should be in contact with the sherry. If the pears are placed with the hollow side up to allow the butter and almonds to stay in place, then the rounded outside is in contact with the sherry on the bottom of the dish. But if you flip over the pears, then the butter and almonds will spill off the sides of the pears. The result I got from the recipe was…fine?
The butter and almond mixture was delicious, but the pear itself was just a hot pear. Any bite without butter was disappointing, and I was left unsatisfied.
I tried the recipe again because I know that baked pears can be far more than what I’d tasted, so it had to be the cooking method that was the problem. This time I used a saucepan to sauté the butter and almonds while baking the pears face down in the sherry. Once they were done baking, I spooned in the sautéed butter and almonds. The result was a drastic improvement. The pears soaked up significantly more sherry, keeping them moist and providing a punch of sweetness. The butter mixture browned more on the stove top and had a more complex flavor to it. I would highly recommend this method to the recipe if you plan on trying this one at home.
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