When we catch sight of the first crocuses it always feels like Spring is finally in the air. The world’s most expensive spice, saffron, is produced by the saffron crocus, Crocus Sativus. This intriguing and lovely flower’s story is intertwined with a human history that spans no less than 3000 years. It is a tricky plant to grow here in Ireland, needing rich soil that will reliably dry out and bake in the summer.

One of our favourite saffron inspired recipies is saffron poached pears by one of our favourite people Darina Allen.

Ingredients

200g granulated sugar

425ml water

6 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed

¼ tsp good-quality saffron threads

3tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 firm pears

Method

Put the sugar, water, cardamom pods, saffron and lemon juice into a shallow, wide pan (we use a stainless-steel sauté pan). Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, peel the pears, cut them in half and remove the cores. As you prepare each pear, drop it straight into the simmering syrup, cut-side up.

Cover the pan with a circle of greaseproof paper and put the lid on top. Simmer away gently until the pears are tender, approximately 20-30min, spooning the syrup over them every now and then.

Once the pears are cooked, carefully lift them out of the pan and arrange them in a single layer, cut-side down, in a serving dish. Pour the syrup over the top. Alternatively, you can reduce the syrup first so it thickens slightly. For a more concentrated flavour, the syrup may be reduced a little after the pears have been removed to a serving dish. Be careful not to cook it for too long, or the syrup will caramelise. Serve chilled. This compote keeps for several weeks, covered, in the fridge.

Recipe by Darina Allen

Photograph by Emma Sturgess