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Why Pears?

I've always struggled to persuade people to plant pear trees. Everyone says the fruit can be perfect but more often it's not; the pears are hard as nails then, when your back is turned, they've gone soft and get mangled by wasps. We inherited a couple of pear trees in our old house and I presented the (bullet like) fruit to Caroline to work a culinary miracle with. She did, and we've planted Bristol Cross, Catillac and Onward at our new place as I was so impressed. I thought I'd ask her to reveal her secrets... If you're lucky enough to buy or pick pears that are perfectly ripe nothing can beat eating them as they are, but if they're rather on the hard side then all hope isn’t lost. In fact they're just what you need for making jars of mulled pears, perfect for Christmas presents as well as for your own larder. They're delicious with cold meats or you can use them to make a wonderful pear tarte tatin. Mulled Pears: Makes 2 x 1 litre jars Pre-heat oven to 150, heat the jars before filling 125g granulated sugar 500ml cider (I prefer using dry or medium – we use the local Bullbeggar cider made by friends in Lamyatt) 2 kg pears – not too ripe or they won’t keep their shape Small handful of cloves Cinnamon sticks Star anise Peel the pears whole with the stalk attached, place in a bowl of lightly salted water to stop them browning. When all are peeled cut them in half and stud each with a couple of cloves. Pack them tightly into warm, sterilised jars (I put my jars into the washing up machine and run a hot quick cycle just before using them). Add other spices – cinnamon stick, star anise, juniper berries. Mix the sugar with 500ml of water and slowly bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar. Add the cider and bring to the boil. Pour over the pears. Cover the jars with lids but do not seal. Place the jars on a baking tray, not touching each other, and place in the oven for an hour. Remove carefully from the oven and seal the lids. Leave to settle and cool until the next day. They will then keep for up to a year. Pear Tarte Tatin: serves 6 – 8 Pre-heat oven to 180 1 x 1ltr jar of mulled pears or approx 6 pears (not too ripe) 1 packet of puff pastry 100g of unsalted butter 125g caster sugar 12” frying pan with metal handle as it needs to go into the oven or tarte tatin tin Melt the butter in the frying pan, add the sugar sprinkled evenly. Core your pears and quarter them lengthwise. Arrange the pears in the pan core side up, squashed together as tightly as possible as they shrink during cooking. Continue cooking until the sugar and butter caramelise – you want to get it to the lovely brown caramel colour. I find it takes much longer than I think it will, but be careful as it changes from caramel to burnt remarkably quickly! Remove from the heat. While the sugar is caramelising, roll out the puff pastry so that it is slightly larger than the pan. Place the pastry over the pears and tuck the edges down. Cook for approximately 20mins until the pastry is golden. Turn out onto a plate – this is easier than it sounds, be brave – place the plate on top of the pan and turn upside down. Make sure you hold tight and be careful as it is very hot. You can serve it straight away but I prefer to leave it and have it warm. If no-one's looking add some really good vanilla ice cream. My favourite recipes for preserving and bottling fruit are found in: Jams, Preserves and Edible Gifts by Sara Paston-Williams River Cottage Preserves, by Pam "the jam" Corbin Gardener Cook, by Christopher Lloyd