Portion/Yield:Makes 24 pastilles
I always love a visit from Lin. She brings us baskets filled with wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables from her allotment nearby. This week she brought me a basket filled to the brim with conference pears, apples, courgettes, tomatoes, an ornamental squash for the display box and a bag filled with herbs. I have been waiting a few weeks for these pears and they finally arrived. Half of them I poached and the rest I made into these delicious camomile and smoked pear pastilles.
My palate always used to be known as a good one, and I had the privilege of tasting the food in a Michelin-starred restaurant I once worked in, as I was the only lady employed in the kitchen at that time. They said a woman’s palate is more refined and finely tuned and I loved every minute of my ‘special role’ as I managed to taste nearly everything we served. It honed my palate and made me a better chef, as I was always looking for perfection and had the desire to taste every ingredient for it to pass my taste test. So I felt privileged that I was not only learning the very best tricks of the trade, but I had something that no one else could offer at that time, and that was pretty special. In fact, my palate was so finely tuned that when I went on a wine-tasting and palate identification course, I correctly guessed fifty out of fifty of the ingredients we had to taste (many of my fellow male counterparts were a little bemused by this!).
These sweeties are pretty special but at the same time I think they are an acquired taste. I planted a camomile bush in my garden two years ago but over time I had forgotten what it was as the label had disappeared. Only when my mum came to visit last year and she pointed out that it was camomile did I remember. It makes me laugh as I’m so forgetful at the best of times, but what a lovely find. When we moved to Suffolk, we brought most of our unusual herbs along and luckily this time we labelled them all, just to avoid any confusion.
The smoking process is an interesting but equally quite tricky one. Suffolk is known for its wonderful smokehouses and there are plenty of them around. All with their own style and their own interesting smoked items. The smoking process for these pears must be controlled; if you smoke the pears too much it will overpower the rest of the flavours, so if you want to serve them at the end of a meal, their flavour could be a bit too strong.
Serve them as petit fours or bag them up in pretty transparent cellophane bags and give them as a gift, as they do make a lovely treat.
Ingredients & Method
- 10g fresh camomile sprigs
- 330g caster sugar
- 50ml cold water, plus 2 tablespoons
- 500g Conference pears
- 50g loose camomile tea
- 180g liquid glucose
- 20g powdered pectin
- juice of 1 lemon
- golden caster sugar, for sprinkling
Place the fresh camomile sprigs, 30g of the caster sugar and the 50ml water in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then bring the syrup to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Peel, core and quarter the pears. Place the pear quarters with the camomile syrup into a vacuum bag, then seal on hard vacuum. Leave the pears to infuse overnight.
The next day, mix half of the camomile tea with the remaining 2 tablespoons water and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
Drain the pears (reserving the syrup), then place the pears on a wire cooling rack (and place the camomile sprigs on top). Spread the soaked tea over a flameproof roasting tray and mix the rest of the dry tea in with the wet tea. Place the rack of pears over the tea. Cover the pears and roasting tray with foil, then place the roasting tray over a naked flame. The tea will start to smoke, so once you have a sufficient amount of smoke, remove the tray from the naked flame and set aside for 30 minutes so that the pears take on the flavour of the smoke.
Line a 21 x 14 x 1.5cm tray or cake tin with a double layer of cling film (I found these exact size trays at Muji and they are perfect). Place the smoked pears (discard the camomile sprigs) and the reserved syrup into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and combined.
Measure 500g of the pear purée into a medium saucepan (if you don’t quite have 500g purée, then make it up to that weight with water) and add the glucose. Bring to the boil, then boil rapidly until the purée reaches a temperature of 107°C. Mix the remaining 300g caster sugar with the pectin, and then add this to the boiling pear mixture. Stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring back to the boil and boil rapidly until the mixture again reaches 107°C.
Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, then immediately pour the hot mixture into the lined tray. Leave it to cool and set completely at room temperature.
Once it is completely set, cut the pear pastille mixture into squares, then roll each square in golden caster sugar. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container (see Chef’s Note).
Do not keep the pastilles in the fridge as they will start to dissolve. Keep them in an airtight container (with non-stick baking paper between each layer) in a cool, dry cupboard and eat within 3 days.