Today we celebrate a dessert with all kinds of weird grammar symbols in the name. It’s National Pears Hélène Day! Seriously, what are those weird slash mark thingies over the letter e? And, for that matter, what is Pears Hélène?
An old-fashioned dessert that is rarely seen anymore, that’s what. The dish was created by esteemed French chef and restaurateur Georges Auguste Escoffier, the same fella responsible for Peach Melba, in 1864. (The guy was all over the food map, inventing dishes left and right. We’ll be talking about him again when we celebrate Melba toast). The dessert was inspired by the opera La Belle Hélène, a historical reconstruction of the love triangle between Helen of Troy (“the face that launched a thousand ships and a Brad Pitt movie”), Paris, and Menelas. Escoffier decided that pears poached in sugar syrup and served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and crystallized violets would perfectly represent the opera. Over the years the dessert was simplified, with sliced pears replacing the poached ones and slivered almonds standing in for the crystallized violets. Whew! I’d have hated to try and find that ingredient.
Pears Hélène looked, and sounded, complicated when I first read about it, but in reality the simplified version is pretty easy. If we didn’t have plans tonight I might have considered poaching a whole pear, but we decided instead to go the simple route. Sliced pears, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and slivered almonds. A little bowl at lunchtime. It was decent, though I’m sure using a real poached pear instead of a generic brand of pear halves in lite syrup would have upped the wow quotient.
- Pears Hélène Martini (daydreamerdesserts.com)