After moving to Vermont in the late eighties, it didn’t take long for me to become familiar with what is probably the state’s signature product: maple syrup. “Sugaring” is the process of tapping the sap of sugar maples and then boiling down the clear liquid until the water has evaporated and the syrup acquires its distinctive amber color.
Native Americans practiced sugaring long before the settlers ever came to these shores (the Algonquin Indians named it Sinzibukwud or “drawn from wood”). Delighted by the flavor, the newcomers soon developed their own sugaring method – one that is still practiced today. The task is arduous for sure, but it yields the most deliciously sweet and earthy liquid.
Aside from its rich flavor, maple syrup is actually a very nutritious food. It is very high in manganese, potassium, calcium and zinc, and contains traces of a myriad of minerals and vitamins – making it a perfect alternative to regular sugar. It certainly widened my horizons! Maple syrup soon became my favorite sweetener, finding its way into many of my recipes: desserts and breakfast fare to salad dressings and savory dishes (I love using a dash of the stuff to glaze vegetables!).
Today’s recipe is probably my favorite creation of all. Instead of poaching fruits with sugar and wine as is so often done, I poach these fresh, local Bosc pears in maple syrup, vanilla and lemon zest. Surprisingly it takes very little maple syrup to make the pears intensely sweet and flavorful.
Serve the pears on their own for a light ending to a meal, or dress them up with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce. What a perfect way to conjure up romantic Vermont foliage on your palate!
Maple-poached pear sundae
active time: 20 min
For the pears
- 1 lemon
- 7 cups spring water
- 3/4 cup maple syrup (grade A or B)
- 2″ piece fresh vanilla bean – cut in half
- 6 Bosc pears – peeled, cut in half and cored
For the chocolate sauce
- 4 oz (115 g) semisweet chocolate (preferably Callebaut, Valrhona or Scharffen Berger) – broken in 1″ chunks
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 pt pistachio or vanilla ice cream
- Step 1: Peel the lemon with a vegetable hand-peeler in 6 strips. Place the water, maple syrup, vanilla and lemon strips in a large heavy-bottomed pot and bring to boiling point. Reduce the heat to medium to medium-high and add the pears, cut-side down. Fast-simmer for 50 to 60 minutes, turning the pears over once, two-thirds of the way through the cooking. When the liquid has almost all evaporated and starts foaming up, remove pot from heat and transfer the pears, lemon peels, vanilla and syrup to a bowl to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled (about 2 hours).
- Cook’s note: The pears can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- Step 2: In a double boiler, melt the chocolate, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat and slowly add the cream, stirring until the mixture is smooth, to the desired consistency. (Depending on the brand of chocolate, you will use 1/2 to 2/3 of a cup of cream). Keep warm.
- Step 5: To serve – Place 2 pear halves in a dessert bowl or glass. Top with one or two scoops of ice cream. Drizzle with the pear juices and the chocolate sauce. Garnish with one lemon strip and serve immediately.