The forecast on the east coast is calling for snow again. Half of me wants to scowl, stamp my foot and coerce the groundhog into offering up a different verdict. The other half, however, finds reason to celebrate. Cold, snowy days call for extra warmth and nourishment, and in keeping with this snowy theme, I thought I would feature snow fungus today.
Okay, you’ve got me. Other than its name, snow fungus doesn’t have much to do with the snow, but this version of the poached pear is as snug an ending to any meal as you can get. Pears mellowed in a gentle syrup made of spices that warm and invigorate the insides. Add snow fungus and red dates, and you’ve got a power-packed dessert that will leave your body feeling warm and moisturized from the inside out.
I picked these tiny Forelle pears because they looked so squat and cheerful and…happy! Get it? Forelle…Happy…say it out loud. Okay. Moving on.
Any pears (anjou, bartlett, bosc, etc) will do, but I chose these pink-freckled beauties for their diminutive size and ease to plate and portion. Chinese medicine dubs pears as a natural moisturizer, especially for the lungs. Cool in its energetic temperature, pears can eliminate a build-up of dry heat, especially if it’s trapped in the lungs (think of hacking dry coughs). Winter is an especially dry season, so these babies do the trick of nourishing our lungs, protecting them from winter winds and the constant blast of radiator heat.
Snow fungus goes by many names. You might know it as a silver wood ear, a white jelly mushroom (my personal favorite), or by its Latin name, tremella fuciformis. These frond-like delicacies have a gelatinous texture when wet and add an underwater sea-flower effect to anything it accompanies. But it’s more than just a garnish, despite the fact that it looks like the finishing ruffles on a prom dress. Packed with a high percentage of collagen, snow fungus is a moisturizing power player as well, nourishing the lungs and boosting suppleness in the body. According to Chinese medicine, the lungs are intimately related to the periphery of the body, which means that strong lungs equals great skin and glossy hair. It’s not surprising here, considering the snow fungus and its qualities.
Interestingly, red dates, or jujubes, aren’t actually dates at all. They are a part of the buckthorn family and when fresh, their skin is mottled green and have an apple-like flesh. As they dry, they become red and take on a flavor and texture that is similar to a medjool or deglet date. These dates may look like they’ve been in the bathtub for too long, but simmer them in liquid and they become plump little jewels of sweet, juicy flavor. As another staple of the Chinese herbal materia medica, red dates also keep the body moisturized and healthy by nourishing blood and calming our moods.
Deliciously potent, star anise has a sweet, licorice-like flavor that adds an extra dimension to both savory and sweet dishes. It’s often used alongside meat, and more often, as one of the anchoring ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder. Warming and moving in its energetic properties, star anise supports our digestive system and ushers out the cold that can stay built up and trapped inside our bodies. The inclusion of just a few “stars” in this recipe gives the pears and its syrup a subtle, but embracing edge.
These crystalline lumps are Chinese rock sugar that have been chipped away from its original slab. Traditionally, they’re made from unprocessed sugar cane and are cooked down. If these sugar lumps are hard to find, brown sugar will do.
Your moisture-generating, warmth-inducing, winter rock stars are ready. Just add some ginger and fresh orange peel….and look at how pretty your dessert is!
Simmer for half an hour…
To plate, pool a bit of the pear syrup into a bowl, then add the pear, a few dates and a piece of snow fungus.
Snow fungus and red dates = the Chinese medicine approved version of cool whip and a maraschino cherry.
Spiced Poached Pears with Snow Fungus and Red Dates
4 Forelle pears (or other small-sized pears), peeled
8 dried red dates (jujubes)
1 piece of snow fungus
3-4 small pieces of rock sugar, or 2 teaspoons of brown sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
3 whole star anise
2 slices of ginger root
3-4 strips of fresh orange peel
- Soak the snow fungus and red dates separately in water for 20-30 minutes. Rinse and drain.
- Clean off any dirty or hard bits off the snow fungus. If you have a large piece, tear it into smaller pieces.
- In a tall, medium-sized saucepan, combine the pears, red dates, snow fungus, rock sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise, ginger and orange peel.
- Pour enough water into the saucepan to immerse everything, then cover with a lid and bring to a boil. With the lid still on, lower the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
- Check the pears to see if they’re cooked through by piercing one with a toothpick. If it’s done, the toothpick will slide through without resistance.
- Spoon out the warm syrupy liquid into bowls. Carefully lift out the pears, fungus and dates, place them into the bowls, then drizzle more liquid syrup on top. Yes!