Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pears, please- A couple of recipes and lessons all rolled into one

Wow! School is back in full swing, though this past week has been half day, and it has left me little time for posting during the week. You'll have to bear with me as I get my routine adjusted. At the very least, my husband and I got it together enough this weekend to tag team sourdough bread making. I've realized that I'd yet to give an update about my adventures in pear preserve making, so while the bread bakes....

We picked all of the pears off of the tree at the beginning of August. We'd read that they could be picked before they were fully ripe and would sit well for a week or so. Some of the pears on the tree had a lovely flavor while still being firm.. Ardis enjoyed getting to cut up one for herself and eat it.

When we finally had an afternoon available to devote to the pears (due to deer eating the figs at a my mom's house), we began by peeling the pears, and chopping them finely. While looking up recipes is my Ball Blue Book (a name I do not recommend saying in a hurry), I realized that my grandmother (and, now me, because I follow her instructions) did not make "preserves" instead she made "jam." Curious about how Ball suggested to treat the pears, we choose to split the almost 16 cups of chopped goodness into two batches: one for the Ball Blue Book instructions and one for the "Louise" treatment.

Now for those of you that don't know about making apple jelly and pear jelly, you don't actually use the fruit. You can cheat and buy juice at the store, or you can use the peel! I have never actually made pear jelly but felt pretty confident that I knew the basics. I put the peels on the stove with 3 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water. I do not know how many cups of peels were used. While that simmered on the stove on low, we continued with the other recipes.

After reading on the Ball Blue Book as well as the recipes on the jar of pectin, we put a very full 7 cups of pears on the stove with 3 tablespoons of powdered pectin, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and brought it to a boil (which sounds easy, but took quite a while). After it boiled, I followed the rest of the instructions on the jar of pectin- which included adding the sugar ( 2 1/2 cups) and returning the pears to "a boil that cannot be stirred down." At this point, we were able to ladle the very hot jam into the very hot, sterilized jars.

Grandmother Louise's recipe calls for equal portions fruit and sugar with lots of slow cooking. I am never brave enough to actually do the full amount of sugar-especially, when working with 7 cups of fruit. Instead, I covered the 7 cups of finely chopped pears with 3 cups of sugar and drizzled a 1/2 cup of lemon juice over the top. These pears were put in the fridge to allow them to macerate overnight.

Returning to the peels, we realized that we were getting a beautiful syrup that was thickening, but not gelling. A little research let me know that the peels would likely have required the use of pectin- which should have been added BEFORE the sugar since I was using the powdered version. oops. However, we strained the peels out and continued to cook the jelly until it was thick enough to form jelly droplets along the edge of a spoon. We ladled it into hot jars as well (straining it again through a tiny little sieve that I'm fairly certain was not meant for such a purpose). After two weeks, the jelly is still syrup and can officially be reprocessed to add the missing pectin. I'm excited because it is the most beautiful shade of golden yellow.

After a day of macerating, Grandmother Louise's preserves were cooked on low until boiling. Once they began to boil, we waited until the fruit and syrup would "mound" on a spoon (i.e. when you scoop a spoonful up, you had a pile of fruit and syrup instead of escapee fruit fleeing for the pot again). Again, we ladled the sweet goodness into hot jars.

All of the jelly and preserves were processed in a hot water bath for about 10 minutes because the jars were only half pints. We ended up with a total of 8 jars of jam and 5 jars of soon to be jelly. Grandmother Louise's are slightly runny while the Ball recipe with pectin resulted in a "hard set." The taste is almost identical. Both are excellent on homemade sourdough bread.

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