Dried hibiscus flowers are used in Mexico to make hibiscus agua fresca – a gorgeous citrussy summer drink – but they’re also used in the Middle East and I thought that the hibiscus drink, a little adapted, would be good for poaching pears. These are the deepest, craziest crimson colour. You could add other flavourings – rosemary, cinnamon, ginger or bay – but I like the pears just with hibiscus and citrus juice.
40g dried hibiscus flowers
4 broad strips of lime zest 250g granulated sugar juice of 2 limes, plus more to taste 8 pears
Put the flowers in a saucepan with 800ml of water, the lime zest strips and sugar and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Leave until cool.
Pour the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the flowers to extract as much flavour as possible. Add the lime juice to the hibiscus-infused liquid. Pour this into a broad saucepan, or a sauté pan with a lid, in which the pears can lie in a single layer. Peel the pears, but leave their stalks on. Heat the liquid to simmering and add the pears; they should be just covered so, if there isn’t enough, add a little more water. Put some baking paper on top (cut it to fit your pan) and cover with the lid. How long you need to cook the pears depends on how ripe they are: it could take 10 minutes, it could take 20. Check by piercing the flesh with the tip of knife; it should be tender. You also need to turn the pears over during cooking, otherwise one side gets darker than the other.
Lift the tender pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon and set them on to a tray where they aren’t touching (if they touch each other they will continue to cook in the residual heat and might become too soft).
Boil the poaching liquid until you have about 350ml left. Check for a balance of sweetness and citrussy-ness. You might want to add a little more lime juice. Leave to cool completely.
Return the pears to the cooled liquid and leave overnight. The longer the fruits sit in it, the more they will become stained and flavoured with the hibiscus syrup. Serve with slightly sweetened creme fraiche.
This is an edited extract from How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry, published by Hachette RRP $44.99, available in stores nationally. Photographer: ©Laura Edwards