A truly sumptuous dessert, guaranteed to transport even the most inexperienced cook to master chefdom – if only for a single night.
Use Seckels or underripe Boscs. Peel, leaving stems on, and store in acidulated water until ready to use, so that pears won’t turn brown (to acidulate water, add the juice of 1 lemon for every half-gallon water). Mix a wine of your choice with equal quantities of fresh water to make enough liquid to cover the pears completely (2 quarts total liquid, including water, covers about 8 pears). Measure the liquid and add 3 tablespoons sugar for each cup. Season (see below for suggestions) and bring the liquid to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, then add pears. Poach gently until the pears are tender (it will take 20 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the pears – test with a sharp knife point). Remove the pears and boil the liquid until it is reduced to a medium-weight syrup. Taste and add sugar if necessary. Pour the syrup over the pears and marinate for at least 2 hours, but not more than 4 or 5 days. (To get the red pears evenly and darkly red, keep turning them and marinate for several days.) To serve, cut a thin slice from the bottom of each pear so it will stand upright, and serve with crisp, not-too-sweet cookies.
Seasoning Suggestions: With white wine, use either a 3- or 4-inch strip of lemon zest and a ½-inch slice of fresh ginger, or half a vanilla bean. With red wine, use a 3- or 4-inch strip of orange peel and a 2-inch piece of stick cinnamon (remove the cinnamon after 1 day, or the flavor will be too strong).