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The Great Pear Experiment

**Edited to add: at the end of this post I put an update on how the jam turned out + the exact proportions I used for future reference**
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As I’ve now lamented in several posts, life has been quite busy of late, leaving me too tired to prepare lunches to take to work with me on some days.  On the upside, I have actually been doing a half decent job of eating well at home.  I have some early planning to thank for this.  Throughout the summer, when life was less hectic, I did a fair bit of cooking and put the extras in the freezer: soups, sauces & stews.  I have been eating them up this last couple of weeks.  Tonight, for example, I cooked up some locally made noodles (from Aylmer, ON), chopped up and sautéed a local sausage, opened a jar of roasted tomato sauce from the freezer (which I remembered to put out last night, along with the dog meat, to thaw), and mixed everything together with some grated local cheese.  Simple but delicious.  For lunch tomorrow: lettuce soup.

I have eaten up most of my stores, however, so I hope life will slow down soon so that I can get back to cooking.  Tomorrow I pick up my first box of veggies from Fairmeadow Farm and I’m sure that will inspire me to get back to food prep beyond canning.  In fact, now that I think of it, the main reason I have not been cooking up meals is probably not because I’ve been so busy, but rather because any cooking time I’ve had I’ve spent canning, blanching or fermenting.

Take this evening, for example.  I had 11 quarts of pears that simply had to be processed.  I had wanted to can pears but thought this batch of seconds were probably too beaten up for canning.  Now I’m wondering if I made a mistake.  Instead of canning them (they were extremely delicious and would have made fantastic eating pears), I tried turning them into jam.  Pear ginger jam to be precise.  It was a recipe that I’ve been wanting to try for some time now as it sounds so yummy.  I searched the internet and came up with this recipe (from the blog Free Range Living):

  • 4 cups chopped pears
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 of a cup of finely minced fresh ginger root
  • 1 package of pectin
  • 7 cups of sugar

“Put the pears into a pot and mash (or take an immersion blender to the jam after it’s cooked a bit, taking care not to splash yourself). Add lemon juice and ginger; bring to a boil. Add pectin. Slowly stir in sugar. Cook until jam sheets off of the back of a spoon. Ladle into sterile jars and process (about 15 minutes for 1/2 pint jars).”

I modified the recipe, of course.  I can’t seem to bring myself to put that much sugar into anything I make.  In fact, I didn’t want to put any sugar in it.  I used honey instead.  I chopped up the pear and ended up with 16 cups worth, or enough for four times this recipe.  I put in four times as much lemon, about 1 cup of ginger (that’s all I had, and I think that might have been too much), and four cups of honey.  That’s one cup of honey per batch, instead of 7 cups of sugar.  I can only imagine how sweet the original recipe must be!  That said, I do find you only need to use a quarter to a third as much honey as sugar for most recipes, at least to my taste buds.

I wasn’t going to add any pectin but the resulting concoction was simply too thin.  As I couldn’t imagine eating that much ice cream topped with pear sauce, I raided my roommate’s canning stores and added four packages of pectin (which I will replace next time I am near a store!).  I really should do some research into the relationship between pectin and sugar.  I have so far found that jams made with honey instead of sugar simply do not set, regardless of how much pectin you mix in.  I don’t know why, and if I did, perhaps I could do something about it.  At least I’d understand why my efforts aren’t working and perhaps give up!

I spent the first hour of prep on the phone with a good friend who was driving to a sheepdog trial.  He was keeping me company while I chopped, I was keeping him awake while he drove down the dark highway.  As I sit now by the well stoked woodstove (I managed to get it up and running nicely this evening), I don’t envy his cold, rainy weekend outside.  I was supposed to go to a different sheepdog trial this weekend and had to pull out because of my workload.  Considering how cold it is supposed to be and that I would have been sleeping in a tent (albeit with four warm dogs), I guess I am grateful for the 160 exams that sit around me, still awaiting their grades.  There’s always a silver lining!

Once my friend arrived safely, I got off the phone and continued with my cooking, this time to a movie.  I propped my little computer on the counter, plugged in my new speakers (without which I cannot hear anything while I cook), and watched “Dial M for Murder” while I finished my jam.  What a great movie, and a lovely way to spend a Friday evening.  Especially with the warm woodstove heating the house and making everything smell nice.

The result of my pear experiment is a substance that looks much like apple sauce, sweet but with a serious kick to it.  I’m not sure if it will even come close to setting, but at least it is thick enough to spread.  I suppose it if stays fairly soft, it can also be used as ice cream topping, or mixed into yogurt.  I’m not sure if I like the taste as it’s pretty strong.  If I try this again, I’ll probably use less ginger.  That won’t be for a while, however, as I have 16 jars of it to get through.

Maybe these will be my Christmas presents to people, along with the slightly burned peach and pepper relish.   Really, I shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.  I find it endlessly amusing that my life revolves around food when I am such a terrible cook.  I really have no talent, patience or instinct for cooking.  I spend time in the kitchen for ethical reasons and not because of passion for good food, and this is reflected in what I produce.  Good thing, I guess, that being single I am the only one who eats it!  And there’s that silver lining again…

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Update on the pear jam: It’s fantastic!  Yippee!  Maybe I’m not such a clod in the kitchen after all.  It just  needed a little time to mellow and for the flavours to mix.  It’s amazing on my sourdough, but even really yummy just with a spoon.  A definite keeper.  Here are the exact modifications I made to the recipe above, using honey:

– 4 cups chopped and pealed pears
– 1 /4 cup puréed fresh ginger
– 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice
– 1 package of pectin
– 1 cup of honey

Combine and cook.  Purée with a blender once pears are tender.  Simmer until thickening.  Pour into sterile jars.  Process in hot water bath if you are really worried (I don’t bother with jam as it’s so sweet I’m fairly certain pouring boiling jam into boiling hot jars is sufficient).  Makes 4 small jars of jam (250ml).

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3 Responses

  1. Sounds like quite the experiment. I’ve had really good luck making jams with no pectin and by just adding sugar and certain fruits that make them slightly more solid. Apparently blueberries are really good for this. I think blueberry/pear jam sounds delicious!!

    • Thanks Kristy – that’s a really good idea! I will have to try doing some fruit combining next year and research which fruit has more pectin in it. I know tart apples do, but didn’t realize the blueberries could also be helpful. Blueberry-pear jam indeed sounds wonderful!

  2. I made more syrup than any one family could possibly use at the beginning of my jam and jelly making mission this summer due to ‘pectin issues’. lol Since, I’ve learned that regular pectin and sugar do in deed have a relationship. Regular pectin requires 55-85% of the recipe to be sugar to set properly. I’ve since changed to No Sugar Needed Pectin which reacts instead with the lemon juice. I am unclear if it is the calcium or the acid, but I am inclined to believe it is the calcium in relation to the pectin. I usually put in an additional tablespoon of lemon juice regardless of the recipe. I made the above mentioned Pear Ginger Jam today. Although I found the recipe elsewhere, it is identical. I made a few changes as usual, but what an amazing end result! I did substitute the sugar with Agave Nectar. I threw in an extra pear because I wouldn’t want it to feel left out! I used my fine micro-plane grater to add a tad bit more than 1/3 cup ginger to the recipe and . It set up beautifully and the flavor is…WOW!!!! I’ll be making much more to send out as holiday gifts this year. It is so delicious – I just want to share it with everyone!
    I was reading that this recipe is exceptionally versatile. Simply substitute one cup of any other fruit for one cup of pear and it will make a combo. Adding cinnamon and nutmeg give it a real spiced holiday flavor. I can’t wait to play with the next batch!
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I look forward to more!

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