One of the amazing gifts of being connected to farmers and having them become your friends is that unexpected bounties can come your way. I am often the beneficiary of generous surpluses of things and I am always grateful. This year I was the lucky receiver of beautiful pears that became vanilla pear butter, maple pear butter, and some delicious pear cider that I greedily drank all by myself. Happily, some of the pears went back to my industrious friends as little jars of jam wonderfulness.
More recently, I was given many, many pounds of Asian pears. The largest of them got eaten straight — peeled, cored like an apple, and eaten with delicious abandon. Asian pears are crisp like an apple but have a watery pear-ness that is sweet but not too sweet. I’ve never really done anything with them other than peel, core, and eat them raw. It’s how I was introduced to them years ago and how I ate them in Japan.
I turned to the internet. I did find recipes for canning them as jam, so I did make a couple of batches. Unlike what I was seeing online, I did not peel them or grate them — too much work. I figured that the skins would eventually get tender enough to puree into jam. Because I wasn’t sure how it would go, I made the first batch as simply as possible:
- 5 pounds washed, cored, and chopped pears
- 4 c. sugar
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice (just to be safe)
Yes, it’s a lot of sugar. The sugar and the lemon is what keeps things safe. It can sometimes be unpredictable to use fresh lemon so I used some of the bottled stuff for it’s reliable acidity.
It takes a long time. I was getting very impatient but the final fruit had to simmer on the stove for about 40 minutes. Even then, it was hard to get the immersion blender to process things down. I learned the hard way that you need to keep stirring the mixture. My first few filled jars were a bit watery as the thicker jam was settling on the bottom of the pot. Once I realized, I did a better job of stirring things up to normalize my jars. The first thin ones will be syrup for pancakes and the like.
The plain jam was good. There was a bit of bitterness from the skin, but it didn’t bother me. It did get me thinking about flavorings. The main one found on the internet was ginger. I’m sure that’s good. I decided to go another direction and use whole cinnamon sticks and star anise. I love the star anise flavor in fruit compotes I’ve made in the past and I thought it’s strong flavor along with a flavorful honey as part of my sweetener would be a dynamite combination.
A few days later, I started with the same basic recipe but added 2 full cinnamon sticks, 3 star anise, and a couple big spoonfuls of olive honey that I have because it’s very strongly flavored. I knew in advance it needed to cook a long time so I just started up front with the timer set for 45 minutes.
The aroma was very beguiling. I was getting hungry so I pulled out some cheese and crackers for a snack. As I was getting my small feast ready, I thought “why not put some of the softened pears on top? I bet that would be good.” It was fantastic.
I greedily ate the first three and then made myself three more!
I proceeded to make the rest into jam as planned — pulling out the spices and then using the immersion blender to puree it into jam. I then canned it as usual.
I still had quite a few Asian pears left and the cheese snack helped me to decide that instead of making yet one more batch of jam, I’d just make canned Asian pears using the same flavor profile as my jam. If I didn’t can them for a long shelf life, I could use less sugar and just plan to eat them sooner rather than later.
A few more days later and I set to the kitchen to make my concoction. I washed, cored, and chopped the pears into fourths. In a pot, I added whole cinnamon sticks, star anise, more of the honey, and a bit of water to get things going. Once the pears were tender, I put them and the accumulated liquid into two large jars and one small jar. The little jar went to the farmers. I ate the first big jar in just a few days — by themselves like fruit cocktail, mixed in with plain yogurt, and even a few on cheese and crackers. The second jar got eaten more slowly. These pears were made in late September but I’m still finishing up the jar in mid-October. There’s enough sugar and lemon to make them stable for a bit longer even though they’re not canned and processed.
It was a lucky bounty and it sent me in some new and fun directions in the kitchen. Thanks friends!!