“Do I smell Baked Pears Alicia?” (The Sequel)

It is not often that pears are shrouded in mystery. This past weekend the question, “Did you get the pears?” caused a stir that landed on the many Monday morning message boards that dissect the latest episode of “Mad Men.” (Many viewers could not hear the answer, which was, “We’ll talk about it inside.” But that’s a whooooole other blog.)

One of the first things I wrote about on this blog was my fascination with food used as a prop in movies, TV, and on stage. I have always thought that it was a personal obsession. Most people get lost in the story; I get lost in the food. I can’t slice garlic without thinking of Clemenza’s spaghetti-cooking scene in “The Godfather.”

The Google search that has brought more people to this blog than any other was for a little item named “Baked Pears Alicia,” a dessert served in “The Dinner Party”, a particularly funny episode of the classic sitcom, Mary Tyler Moore. Turns out plenty of people would like to know what “Baked Pears Alicia” was. But the pears have been shrouded in mystery. I had always assumed that the writers just thumbed through the same cook book to find the whole menu. Ah well, wrong again.

Last year when I wrote about the pears I didn’t delve too much into the mystery. The blog wasn’t about the pears, it was about food on screen. But as the year has gone by I have searched high and low and checked cookbooks old and new and come up empty.

A real reporter would have dug deeper, perhaps tried to contact the writers, or at least checked the Library of Congress. Alas, I have done none of the above. You see, I had an ulterior motive: I was hoping all along that there was no such thing as “Baked Pears Alicia”, that the writers made it up because it sounded funny. Why would I hope this? Because I wanted to make my own recipe.

I got my wish.

I have never worked as a food stylist.  The new film, “Eat Pray Love” was styled by Susan Spungen who, as I mentioned last year, also styled the film “Julie and Julia”. She is very skilled and experienced — in fact she’s a Martha Stewart veteran. I don’t know if I have what it takes to do that job; so much of it is just visual. I think I’d get hung up on getting into the character’s “head” (as it were.)

Surely the prop pears we fleetingly see Mary passing around the room were just plain ol’ baked pears. But my head goes right to the question, “What would Sue Ann Nivens do with a pear?” (And by all means go for the double entendre here: she would.)

So, not unlike the way an actor finds a fictional character, I found “Baked Pears Alicia.” I started from the outside and worked in. I knew four things that would inform my final result: 1) How they looked, 2) That they smelled good, 3) Sue Ann Nivens, host of “The Happy Homemaker” on WJM-TV made them, 4) They were pears. (I also knew that the main course in that episode, “Veal Prince Orloff” was straight out of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”)

Appearance: they looked simple and unadorned, save for some liquid I thought I could spy in the bottom of the dish. This told me that they gave off a lot of liquid, and that whatever culinary magic Sue Ann wove must have been in the cooking medium.

Smell: I think Sue Ann would have used more than just cinnamon, so I added something that was indulgent, fragrant, and would suit the period: a whole vanilla bean, seeds and pod, plus a good dash of fresh ginger, and a whisper of cardamom. I think these would have been in Sue Ann’s somewhat classical, mid-century culinary vocabulary.

The main and most important ingredient – after the pears, of course – is a really delicious dessert wine. Cost-wise you could really go crazy here, but I stuck with a slightly sane Argentinean Torrontes whose mellow sweetness could easily be mistaken for a Moscado. (For the record, yes, it was redolent of pears. Said so right on the label.)

Keeping in mind that the game here was baked, not poached, pears, I used the spiced liquid (which truly wasn’t far from mulled wine) as a marinade before baking the pears, letting them absorb the flavors of the spices and the wine.

After baking the pears I sprinkled them lightly with a bit of Demerara sugar for sparkle, and some crushed Amaretti cookies for crunch. While the spiced wine boiled and the pears baked, the vanilla and cinnamon perfumed my kitchen. If there is ever a Butter Flour Eggs Scented Candle, (never say never) this is how it will smell. Not icky sweet, just mouth watering.

You’ll notice that the only sugar I added was the small amount sprinkled on the pears after they baked; the wine is so sweet that any further sugar would be overkill, producing a dessert that is way too syrupy. As I write this, we have barely passed mid-August; pear season doesn’t hit for at least another month, so save this dessert for cooler autumn nights. In fact, the warmth and richness of the spices, and the visual of the sparkling pears makes this a really great Christmas dessert. (Is it too early to start talking Christmas?)

How’d I do? I like to think Sue Ann would’ve lovingly stroked my bald head and given me a saucy wink.

And if I’ve whet your appetite for Mary’s dinner party, you can watch the entire Mary Tyler Moore episode on Amazon for $1.99.

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Click here for the recipe for my version of “Baked Pears Alicia.”

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 Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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One Response to ““Do I smell Baked Pears Alicia?” (The Sequel)”

  • mark:

    Well, the Baked Pears Alicia looks great and that episode of MTM is one of my favorites. I think Sue Ann Nivens would be very pleased with your creation and happily squeal , while stroking your bald head ” Dear sweet Michael, you must know I’ve never met a pear I couldn’t resist eating!”

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