Real Talk: Pear Soup with Chrysanthemum and Rock Sugar

When I first started cooking I saw it as an arts and crafts project. It fell into the same category as bedazzling a notebook with rhinestones and making Shrinky Dinks. It was a matter of making something with my own two hands, a skill I could show off to my friends and at parties. Not until I discovered the likes of Deb, Tara, and Molly, to name a few of my favorites, did I realize how shallow my perspective was.

Of course, it didn’t happen instantly. I’m too ordinary to have things like life-changing epiphanies. No, it took years to arrive at even a vague understanding of food’s significance in my life, and I’m sure my understanding will change in the years to come. But it started with the discovery of bloggers who used food as a medium of expression (no really it’s true!). They lived their lives around food and told their stories through it. They related childhood memories of hours spent watching Mommy make Aunt Bill’s burnt sugar candy and shared their delight in discovering “truly figgy” semi-dried figs. Somewhere along the line I picked up the name “Jacques Pepin” and soon after I tumbled hopelessly down the rabbit hole of food-geekdom. We were friends, me and these bloggers scattered in all the corners of the world. At times, I can’t say I didn’t wish I lived like them.

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And by like them I mean on a sepia-toned orchard in Maine, where I can grab a dew-studded apple straight off the branch poking through my window each morning as I roll out of bed, then whip up a quiche before going off to school. That’s how food bloggers live, right?

Many times I find myself making recipes in a determined effort to live that dream. I say to myself, “If I can bake a chocolate cake as good as Ina’s, I’ll live on that orchard, dammit.” My line of thinking isn’t that good baking directly leads to life on an orchard; rather, that if I’m the type of person that can pull off one, I can pull off the other. Then, I’ll be making something that I’d been planning for days, only to make a stupid mistake like spilling the contents of an oxygen absorber packet in the batter (Don’t ask). I know, boohoo, it’s just one cake, but I swear I go through the five stages of grief over it.

It’s…not that bad…right? It’s not like poisonous at least…

WELL THEY SHOULD’VE DESIGNED AN OXYGEN ABSORBING PACKET THAT DOESN’T JUST FALL OUT LIKE THAT.

Allright, it’s okay, I’ll just remove it with a magnet.

Who am I kidding, I’m no Ina. Why do I even bother.

Finally, after torturing myself enough, I arrive at a conclusion that you’d think I would only have to arrive at once, though you’d be wrong: that I’ve been detached from reality. The reality is that I don’t live on an apple orchard, I live in a suburb on the outskirts of San Francisco (To adapt a remark made by my physics teacher, Mr. F: If Costco sold suburbs, it would sell a six-pack of Fremonts). That I don’t have time to make focaccia daily because instead of spending my days dancing in a flour storm, I go to school. That I’m not married with kids, I’m only seventeen and have yet to go to college and will soon have to go into the big scary world and omygosh. The reality is that the heirloom recipes in my family consist not of Granny’s Magical Cookies but 婆婆 (maternal grandmother) and 奶奶(paternal grandmother)’s Chinese dessert soups. And reality is okay.

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Sometimes you have to hit the pause button and see what movie you’re actually in. What you’re doing right now, not what you want to be doing later. I don’t mean it’s terrible to try and be like your idols. There is no shame in aspiring to be a “better” person, however you may define it–an idea that I think is lost in the “be yourself” platitude. I just mean you can’t forget where you are at the moment–what events and experiences got you to where you are, who influenced you along the way–and I think food is a wonderful way to remember the reality of today.

So now that I have sufficiently rambled on about a subject I probably have no authority over, I think I’ll end with a toast on this fine Saturday night: Cheers to Reality, the Present, and Pear Soup!

Pear Soup with Chrysanthemum and Rock Sugar

My grandma used to make something similar as a cold remedy for me when I got sick with a sore throat, but it was too good to be reserved only for miserable occasions. As good as it was, it has since become a little different from the original. She always used Asian pears (which are very good, I just don’t always have them) and made it with a much higher pear-to-water ratio so it was more like stewed pears rather than a soup. I’ve also added chrysanthemum flowers because I have a penchant for adding flowers to everything I eat. This is really more of a non-recipe…

pears, washed

rock sugar, or to taste

half a handful of chrysanthemum flowers

  1. Cut each pear into 8 slices, removing the seeds.
  2. Place the sliced pears in a small saucepan. Add enough water to cover the pears. Toss in the sugar and the chrysanthemum.
  3. Cover and bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat. Continue simmering until the pears are soft, about 30 minutes. Good at any temperature.
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