6 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
2-3 long strips of lemon zest
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 star anise
4 ripe but firm Bartlett or Anjou pears
In a deep straight-sided, nonreactive saucepan, add the water, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla bean seeds and pod, and star anise and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.
Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact. Slice off just enough of the bottom of each pear to create a flat, stable base.
Reduce heat to keep poaching liquid at a bare simmer and add the pears, laying them on their sides. Gently turn the pears occasionally, and cook until they are just tender when pierced with a knife, about 6-9 minutes. Allow pears to cool completely in their poaching liquid. Stand each pear upright on a plate to serve, or transfer pears and poaching liquid to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.