Resurrection: 1936 spiced pickled pears

I’ve just come back from visiting an old university friend in Stroud, Gloucestershire. While down there we did a tour of the charity shops and I discovered a 1936 edition of Cookery Illustrated & Household Management for the bargain price of £1.50.

My Nan, Dolly in her ’30s or 40s heyday – the kind of woman who’d have used the book

There are two things charming about this book. The first is that it has chapters with titles like ‘Entertaining without a Maid’ which, considering when it was published and the growing clouds of war looming, seems a uniquely British eccentricity. The other charming element is how short the recipes are – today we have detailed instructions and pictures for recipes but not in 1936. You’re lucky if you got a paragraph.

Spiced pickled pear recipe – short and to the point

I plucked this dish out as it’s a recipe that you can do easily and yet make a great impact. I’ve made these (pictures below) and they go well with some strong soapy cheese (think Cheddar, Gruyère of Apfenzeller) or with a thick salty gammon steak in place of pineapple.

Music to listen to while preparing this dish: ‘Come on in my Kitchen’ by Robert Johnson 

Modern additions/clarifications in ()


  • 4lb (1.8kg) pears (hard but ripe pears)
  • 2lb (900g) sugar (I used golden granulated for flavour)
  • 2pts (1.1 litres) vinegar (Pears are an orchard fruit so I used cider vinegar)
  • 16 cloves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 2″ stick cinnamon
  • Juice and rind of 1/2 lemon (use juice from other half to stop the fruit from browning)
  • Large piece of whole ginger


  1. Peel, core and cut the pears into pieces of equal size (I cut in half & quartered length-ways and covered with the remaining lemon juice to stop browning. Alternatively, you can do this step while your syrup is simmering).
  2. Tie the spices (and rind) loosely in muslin, then put the sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and spices into a saucepan and simmer for 15 mins.
  3. Add the fruit and cook till tender (this will not take long, maximum ten minutes – you don’t want mush)
  4. Remove and pack into glass jars, fill these with (cooled) vinegar syrup, and tie down (seal) when cold.

Notes: You can taste the spices but they are subtle, so I’d whack in an extra 50% of each to really make an impression.

It’s vin primeur season, so serve with a Beaujolais – you can go with a nouveau but the 2011 Morgon Henry Fessy won’t cause a sore head in the morning.

Pickled pears in 3 pics

  1. Preparation of the spices

Clockwise from top: cloves, cinnamon stick, lemon rind, allspice berries, and fresh ginger

2) It’s a wrap

The spices all wrapped up in muslin ready for the syrup

3) The finished product

All cooled and bottled for a sweet and sour experience

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