The age-old Geneva and Savoyard specialty called rzulé in the local dialect, better known today as rissole aux poires, was nearly extinct not so very long ago. The dish consists basically of pears braised until they caramelize, which are then used to fill a pastry. The result resembles a fried apple turnover or chausson, even though it is baked.
The nearly extinct Marlioz pear saved by Geneva woman
You don’t just use any old pear to make rissoles. You use a variety specific to the region: the Marlioz pear, which was saved by none other than Eliane Pottu, says La Tribune de Genéve. Jérôme Estèbe wrote a delightful feature, in French, on the fortunate revival of this dish. Traditionally, every family in canton Geneva and the Savoy had a couple of Marlioz pear trees in the garden, but this tradition has slowly dwindled away.
A few years ago, says Estèbe, Pottu and other growers in the Geneva region took some grafts from the Lullier horticultural center, which was trying to keep the variety alive. Today, they are giving plentiful fruit, and she and her husband have just planted two more.
Another reason the dish was going out of fashion is because one has to cook the pears for at least 3 hours, until they turn red and are caramelized, before they are ready to be put into the pastry and baked. You need the better part of a day to make them, from start to finish.
Pottu uses her grandmother’s recipe, according to the Tribune article. She starts by cooking the pears in a pressure cooker. She then beats them with a wire whip, and flavors them to taste with sugar, cinnamon, orange, candied lemons, and raisins. After that, she lets them braise slowly on top of the stove, stirring them often so they don’t stick.
Recipes vary, but long slow cooking needed
Recipes differ from one family to another, but you can also add cloves, vanilla, ginger, and various other spices. Some people even add wine or kirsch.
The Chronique des Jardins Familiaux de Bernex, an association which is trying to protect the tradition of family gardens in canton Geneva, gives an interesting recipe using brown cane sugar (cassonnade or sucre de canne roux), quince marmelade and red wine. They recommend cooking it from 4 to 6 hours. I would definitely use brown cane sugar and cook it for as long as possible to get as caramel-like a consistency as possible. Adding the alcohol of your choice will also help it caramelize.
Once cooked, you use the pear mixture to make small turnovers using the pastry of your choice. You can also store the pear mixture for later use, just like jam. The pastries are best eaten hot.
Marie Flo gives a wonderful, illustrated, step-by-step recipe in French. Very Easy Kitchen uses short pastry, and Tonka vanilla beans and ginger to spice up the filling (recipe in French), and extra-ripe Abate pears, probably for lack of Marlioz. Abate pears are another local variety, absolutely delicious when eaten raw; I think they’re too fine to cook.
Pears: local fruit from in the midst of winter!
Growers and vendors often make their own pear filling at this time of year, so be on the lookout in farmers markets. Patrimoine Culinaire says for lack of Marlioz, the Loup and Livre varieties are also suitable, as are the Blesson, Martin Sec and Sans Grappe Rouge varieties. Farmers will often simply mark pears that are appropriate for this use as “poires à rissoler,” meaning pears for sautéeing or cooking pears.
According to Office de Promotion des Produits Agricoles de Genève, the office for promoting Geneva agricultural products, Marlioz pears and the other cooking pears mentioned above are too hard to eat raw, and should always be cooked.
The rissoles you find in local bakeries often use a filling they buy pre-made from the German part of Switzerland, simply because of the scarcity of the real thing.
Marlioz pears and filling can be purchased at:
- Madame Pottu’s farm, route de Malval 36, +41 022 754 12 64
- the Ferme Courtois in Versoix, route de la Bravaude 11, +41 033 Branvaude 11, tel. +41 022 755 43 16
- Claude Métrez’s farm and Corinne Ménétrez’s grocery, Le Pommier Garni, route de Gy 31 bis, Meinier, tel. +41 022 772 09 03
Now is the season, from November to January. You can actually eat local fruit in the midst of winter!
Related link: Tribune de Genève