Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pear Butter

Every holiday season, I get a gorgeous box of Royal Riviera Pears from my father in law. Usually, Chris and I can work our way through a good number of them before the turn, but sometimes a few seem to end up past their prime and we have to throw them out. This year, I wanted to figure out a way to use them up before they went south, since they are such delicious pears. I could poach them, but I don't really get the appeal of that. I could turn them into a tart, but then I'd have to eat a whole tart in a short amount of time. But then I remembered the delicious, refreshing pear butter I had at the Dahlia Lounge in Seattle and my search for a pear butter recipe started.

Googling for "Pear Butter", I came across a blog that I follow, Simply Recipes, and their recipe with lots of great pictures to help me along. Trying this new recipe also gave me the opportunity to try canning for the first time.

The recipe itself is quite good and the use of ginger and cardamom with a little lemon zest really make the flavor very refreshing and light. The only tweaks I made to the recipe were to omit the star anise (one of my least favorite flavors in the world), and add just a little cinnamon.

I also did not have a chinois or a food mill, so I had to modify the recipe a little bit. With a food mill, I wouldn't need to worry about removing the peel, seeds, stem and all that stuff. Without those devices, I had to peel the pears, remove the stems, seeds and tough parts. Then, once the pears had cooked down, working in batches, I used a wooden spoon and pressed the softened pears through a fine mesh seive to achieve a smooth puree. If I find that I'm frequently making fruit butters and other pureed foods for canning, I may invest in a fancy food mill, but for making this small batch, this method worked just fine. I just needed some patience and arm strength.

Canning presented a unique challenge for this recipe. I found the website put together by Ball Jars very useful for canning 101: PDF of Intro to Canning. All in all, the process was pretty easy. Again, I didn't have an official "canner" with a rack, but I did have a gigantic multi-pot with a pasta insert that worked just the same.

So, if you find yourself with a lot of pears and want to be able to keep them around for a lot longer, give this recipe a try. It's great spread on any kind of bread, or even stirred into yogurt, cottage cheese, or as an ice cream topping.

Here's the recipe I used, adapted from Simply Recipes:

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 lbs chopped pears, peeled & cored (Bartlett or other). If using a food mill, no need to peel or core. 
  • 1 1-inch nob of ginger (not chopped, so you can fish it out later)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 3-4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

Directions:

  1. Put chopped, peeled & seeded pears and ginger into a large pot. Add water and lemon juice, bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the pears are completely soft, anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat. 
  2. Fish out and discard the ginger from the pear mixture. Ladle the pear mixture (liquid included) into a fine mesh sieve using a wooden spoon to press the pear through the sieve into a bowl. 
  3. Measure the resulting puree and pour into a large pan. For every cup of pear puree add 1/2 cup of sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon zest. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. 
  4. Cook on medium heat, stirring often to prevent the puree from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Cook until the mixture is quite thick, and a small bit placed on a chilled plate is not running. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the batch. 
  5. While the mixture is cooking, sterilize the jars for canning. To sterilize the jars, either 1) run them through the short cycle of the dishwasher, 2) rinse them and place them in a 225 degree oven for 10 minutes, or 3) place them on top of a steaming rack in a large pot of water which you bring to a boil for 10 minutes.
  6. When the pear butter is ready, pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal, allowing for 1/4-inch head space between the pear butter and the rims of the jars. If you plan to store the pear butter outside of a refrigerator, follow proper canning procedures. (Use Intro to Canning). Before applying the lids, sterilize them in a bowl by pouring boiling water over them. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying lids. Use a hot water bath for 10 minutes (remember to adjust time for altitude!)  to ensure a good seal. 
  7. Remove jars from boiling water, set aside to cool and don't touch them for 8-12 hours. Test that the jars sealed after 12 hours by pressing the top of the can. If it pops up, it didn't seal and should be reprocessed immediately, or stored in the refrigerator. (Or, remove some of the pear butter to allow an inch and a half head space and store in the freezer for up to 3 months). 

Makes 6 to 8 half-pint jars.
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