Step 1Bring all the ingredients but the figs to a simmer in a nonreactive saucepan. Add the figs and cook them at a very slight simmer until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the figs.
Step 2Remove the figs to a container with a slotted spoon, raise the heat, bring the syrup to a boil, and reduce by one-third. Pour it over the figs and chill. Keeps for 1 to 2 weeks.
Step 1Peel the pears, leaving the stems on. Core them with an apple corer, then slice a bit off the bottom so they cook upright. (Alternatively, you can halve them, remove the stems and core them.)
Step 2Bring 4 1/2 cups water, the sugar, lemon, vanilla and Poire William (if using) to a simmer in a large saucepan, then add the pears. Cook, covered, until the pears are tender but not mushy -- 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears.
Step 3When the pears are done, remove them from the poaching liquid and boil the remaining liquid until reduced by half. Pour the syrup over the pears and chill.
Step 4To serve, divide the poached pears among 6 bowls, and spoon one-sixth of the poached figs over each.