Late last summer, I started what I think just may become a tradition. Or ritual? Or right of season's passage? Well, maybe...
I made pear butter.
There's an unkempt pear tree in the field behind my home. The first year I noticed it, I picked so many, climbing first a tall ladder and then higher, straight up the branches. I picked and picked and then fretted each day after. "Are they ripe yet?" Pears ripen best off the tree. The technical term is climacteric. Like waiting for bananas to ripen, this may not seem like a big deal to let your harvest ripen here and there at a snail's pace, especially if you're just consuming out of hand as a snack. If your intention is to can them at peak flavor, though, the trick is to get the bulk to ripen simultaneously, and preferably on a not-so-busy weekend. That wasn't the case my first time around...
The reality for pears: the zenith of perfect ripeness seems to last an all too brief second before rot sets in. The reality of this recipe I'm sharing below: possibly every pot and pan in your kitchen will be used and a vigilant eye and stir-happy hand is required to monitor simmering for a couple of hours.
For the fretting over ripeness, for making this recipe the same day as hosting a largish dinner party, for stemming and quartering a way too ambitious quantity of fruit, for the passing through a food mill, not once, but twice to ensure proper consistency, for the stirring and simmering for hours in a hot kitchen, for the precious pear butter-full half-pint jar that broke irreparably in the hot water bath when being processed for storage and thus had to be thrown out, is why I've started charging $$$$/jar. No other jam has caused me this much hassle....or been received so well by friends!
Nah, I don't really charge. Like most everything else I make in my kitchen, I freely give it away, but I am sure to let its recipients know how much its worth in labor. Thankfully, they're quick to let me know that value I'm estimating matches in flavor.
Hopefully this doesn't deter you from trying to make it yourself. I bet you can find ways to make it less labor intensive! This year's batch went a little smoother, and I've got next year to look forward to further streamlining my technique.
Spiced Pear Butter
make 1½ quarts
6 lbs barlett pears, rinsed, stemmed and quartered, if you plan to use a food mill, don't bother to peel or core
¾ cup pear brandy
the juice of one lemon
1 cup turbinado sugar
6 orange slices
2 lemon slices
2 vanilla beans, split length wise, seed scraped
2 cinnamon sticks
9 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
2 pinches of sea salt
Combine the pears, brandy, and lemon juice in a large preserve pan. Cover and simmer until the pears are soft, about 25 minutes. Lift the lid to occasionally give the pears a stir and push unsubmerged pears into the liquid. When soft, pass the pears through the coarsest setting of your food mill or coarse sieve to remove the peel. Then pass through the finest setting of the mill or transfer to a food processor to puree.
Return the puree to a large, heavy saucepan. Add remaining ingredients. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and boil ever so gently until the mixture thickens and mounds slightly on the spoon. This could take 1 to 1½ hours depending on the juiciness of the pears. Stir often to prevent burning the bottom.
Discard fruit slices and spices. Ladle pear butter into hot canning jars, filling only ¼ inch from the top. Using a cloth dipped in hot water, wipe the rim free of drips. Place lids on jars and seal.
Arrange the jars in a pot of boiling water so that at least one inch of water covers the tops. Boil rapidly for 15 minutes. Remove the jars and cool to room temperature. Press the center of each lid. If any lids pop up, store these in the refrigerator. Sealed jars will keep at room temperature for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.
The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.