October in Israel this year is the month of the chagim – the High Holidays.
It means that businesses and shops close early often this month. Many professionals take vacations. The entire country sort of slows down.
And there’s eating, lots of eating. Families and friends sit down together over festive meals and guests arrive bearing bottles of wine. Well, except for on Yom Kippur, but even then there are the pre- and post-fast meals.
It’s the time when you revert to traditional foods, those old-fashioned dishes with their pull of nostalgia and emotional cargo of memories. The family yearns for those foods. They might stage a small revolution if the bowl of golden soup with matzah balls is replaced by something new and trendier, like a curried pumpkin soup. They might compliment me on my garlic smashed potatoes, but wistfully wonder if the next meal won’t bring out a well-baked and shapely potato kugel redolent of onions and schmaltz.
Honestly, what’s trendy, anyhow? At holiday time, old-fashioned is trendy.
Reading the American food scene online, I’ve been amused to find a parallel with my thoughts in recent articles by food writers exasperated with having to produce new methods with the Thanksgiving turkey. How many ways can you cook a turkey, they ask. Haven’t we covered all the possible methods to deliver a juicy bird with crisp skin? It reminds me of how every Chanukah, Jewish food writers desperately come up with ever more inventive latkehs.
I was into that for a while. Thought it important to invent sexier variations of fritters than I had last year. But I’m done with it. Maybe I grew weary, like the turkey-exhausted American writers. Or I realized that my potato latkehs, which my Russian great-grandmother would recognize and relish, are delicious anytime. Pass the applesauce and sour cream, please.
But to return to the High Holiday menus. At some point eating your way through four or five rich meals becomes a chore. And creamy, heavy desserts are killers. The wise cook recognizes this and plans one or two meals based on lots of vegetables and salads. For those meals that submit to soup, big meat and lots of starchy side dishes, light desserts.
Because, enough, already. Sometimes it’s a relief to throw all those traditional recipes and heavy desserts overboard and provide a fresh, light note at the end of a meal.
So I offer you pears in wine, a French recipe. Although I’m pretty sure that wherever good pears grow, someone has had the idea to poach them in good local wine. Not traditional? Serve it once, and you’ll see how fast a sweet new tradition forms.
The pears take about 10 minutes to prep, then it’s an hour on the stove, then several hours in the fridge. I urge you not to fancy them up with whipped cream, ice cream, shavings of chocolate or anything else. Just the pure taste of the cold fruit in wine syrup, lightly sweetened and spiced with cinnamon and a bay leaf.
It’s an easy non-dairy dessert, especially appreciated after a rich meal, when habit demands something sweet but you want to keep it light. Pears in wine, especially cooked in white wine, are positively refreshing.
Use any variety of pear. They should be just ripe and still firm. As for the wine, use a good medium-quality brand, preferably a semi-dry variety. When cooking with white wine, I use a Riesling or Chardonnay. A fruity dry red wine like a Merlot is also very good, but if you make this with red wine, taste the syrup before putting the pears in it to cook. Red wine adds richness and depth, but may call for a slightly sweeter syrup.
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