Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Brother-Sister Day making Pear-Cranberry Jam

Pear cranberry jam mixed into plain yogurt - a wonderful snack!

Pear cranberry jam mixed into plain yogurt – a wonderful snack!

I was up visiting my brother and his family last week. He lives a couple hours north of Seattle, and since I’ve had more time on my hands lately I’ve been able to visit mid-week a few times. My brother, Jason, had Friday off, so we had a “brother-sister day.” We have been talking for a while about making jam together, and we were finally able to make it happen. It was so fun!

Cranberries. You can probably find some on sale now that Thanksgiving is over.

Cranberries. You can probably find some on sale now that Thanksgiving is over.

Neither of us really took the time to learn to make jam from Mom. We both helped her a time or two, but didn’t really absorb the process. It was great being able to share this family tradition with Jason, I hope we’ll be able to make another batch next summer. If you haven’t already done canning with friends or family, do it soon! Humans bond over food, and preparing it together is a really wonderful experience.

Anyway, so we went to the store to see what was in season. There were some nice looking pears (Comice) on sale, and I remembered a recipe I’ve been meaning to make for a couple months. Pear and cranberry jam – yummy and seasonal!

Jason peeling the pears.

Jason peeling the pears.

A quick note about Comice pears: eat as many as you can while they are in season. Holy smokes, they are phenomenal! I know I’ve had them in the past, but never noted how juicy and sweet they are. In fact, if I had known they are so juicy, I would have adjusted the amount liquid in the recipe. They are the only pears I’ve every seen turn to mush unassisted when cooked. I made apple-pear-sauce this weekend (to put on French toast), and I barely had to smash them. And the flavor is exactly what a pear should taste like, only better. OK, digression over.

We used the pear corer to slice and core the pears, easy peasy.

We used the pear corer to slice and core the pears, easy peasy.

I like this jam a lot. It’s like a sweeter cranberry sauce, and you can really taste the pears and the cranberries. Very festive! And since cranberries have a lot of pectin already (I mean, cranberry sauce is basically low-sugar no-pectin jam) you don’t need to add any. It would probably also be delicious with vanilla, cinnamon, or other warm winter spices.

4 cups of each kind of fruit. I like Jason's large measuring cup, my biggest only goes to 2 cups.

4 cups of each kind of fruit. I like Jason’s large measuring cup, my biggest only holds 2 cups.

Recipe (from Food in Jars)

Makes 2 ½ pints, or 5 half-pint jars

4 cups pears, seeded and chopped (we peeled ours, but it isn’t necessary)
4 cups fresh cranberries
3 cups sugar
Juice and zest of one lemon
Up to 1 cup water (optional)

Letting the fruit and sugar sit a little before cooking, to dissolve the sugar a little first.

Letting the fruit and sugar sit a little before cooking, to dissolve the sugar a little first.

Wash the fruit. Pick out any bad cranberries, then measure 4 cups and put in a large non-reactive saucepan. (We found 1 bag of ocean spray was just about a half cup shy of this, next time I might just adjust everything down to keep my purchase to one bag.)

As the fruit cooks, the cranberries will start to "pop." If after a while of boiling, if they haven't popped, feel free to start smashing with the spoon.

As the fruit cooks, the cranberries will start to “pop.” If after a while of boiling, if they haven’t popped, feel free to start smashing with the spoon.

Core and chop the pears. We also peeled ours. Pears ripen from the inside out, and ours weren’t fully ripe at the skin level yet. The pulp was so delicious; we wanted only that in our jam. But if you leave the skin on it will soften and melt as it cooks.

And at last, the jam will meld into a jammy texture, with all the cranberries popped and mushed together with the pears. This is when you would add the lemon juice and zest.

And at last, the jam will meld into a jammy texture, with all the cranberries popped and mushed together with the pears. This is when you would add the lemon juice and zest.

Put fruit and sugar into a large pot, and let sit for a few minutes, to let the sugar dissolve into the pear juice. If your pears aren’t releasing any juice at this point, add a little water. The original recipe suggests one cup, but for our juicy pears that was way too much. We had to cook the jam for an extra half hour to get it to the right consistency. Use your best judgment, and remember you can always add more water (or cook longer to reduce the water out.)

Here we are pouring the jam into jars. Jason and his wife and I all got to take turns at this point, and the jam was firm enough that it didn't drip at all!

Here we are pouring the jam into jars. The jam was firm enough that it didn’t spill at all!

Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 15-25 minutes, until the jam is at a consistency you like. It will firm up as it cools, so try doing a plate test. As I mentioned above, we added a cup of water but probably shouldn’t have, so it took about an hour to cook down to a solid set.

We sampled the jam on the only two English muffins in the house. The 4-year-old girl they were babysitting was helping us taste test the jam... and she came back again and again for more toast with jam. It's a hit!

We sampled the jam on English muffins. The 4-year-old girl they were babysitting was helping us taste test the jam… and she came back again and again for more. It’s a hit!

Stir in lemon zest and juice. You could add this earlier, but adding it at the end preserves the flavor more.

Fill into hot sterilized jars, put on lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!


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Spiced Pear Jelly – a delicious comedy of errors

Spiced pear jelly and buttered whole wheat toast = heaven.

Spiced pear jelly and buttered whole wheat toast = heaven.

This is the story of how making a series of mistakes lead to my favorite preserves this year. This jelly has the sweetness of pears and the warmth of holiday spices. It tastes like spiced cider or something similar, but without the tartness of apples. I highly recommend it!

So here’s how it happened. I had these plums that I had gathered on our less than successful blackberry picking trip. Then, I bought some beautiful pears at a farm stand outside of Monroe, and thought I’d make plum/pear jelly. I used the basic recipe for pear jelly from pick your own, because I really only had a handful of plums, and added spices to it.

Bartlett pears and foraged plums

Bartlett pears and foraged plums

I pitted the plums, but didn’t peel them (they were really small!) Next, I peeled and cored the pears, and sliced the fruit. Then, I read the recipe, and it suggested I leave the peels on, for color and extra flavor. So I pulled them out of the compost (the ones on top, anyway) and added them back to the pot. Cooking the mixture down to mush, I then strained it to get fruit juice. I had just under the amount needed for a half recipe, so I went to the store and bought some pear juice, just for the half cup I needed. I didn’t feel like doing math with the sugar and pectin.

Next, I boiled the juice with pectin and a little sugar. Only, I forgot that I was using half the recipe, so I dumped the entire packet of pectin in. As it was dissolving, it dawned on me that I had a real problem on my hands. Thankfully, I had extra pear juice that I bought earlier that day! I quickly added 3 more cups of store bought juice. That meant that my plums were now about 5% of the total, and my beautiful pears were only about 35% of the total juice. All that work making juice, and I had to dilute it!

Well, the jelly set nicely, and I poured in into jars and sealed them and so forth. But it was time to go to dinner so I left the jelly on the counter, to process the next morning. I was meeting a friend for lunch, and I wanted to show off my amazing jelly, but after re-processing them that morning, they were liquefied. By the time I gave her the jar, I wasn’t sure it would ever reset! But, when it cooled completely it was once again fully set, so I was off the hook. Phew.

All this is to say that sometimes, things don’t go as planned. And you have to improvise or start over. Sometimes those errors are fatal, and you end up with crummy jam. But sometimes, you get the most delicious jelly you’ll ever taste.

Jar of Jelly

Spiced Pear Jelly

Makes a little more than 1.5 pints (the double recipe made 3.5 pints)

2.5 pounds ripe pears
.5 pounds ripe plums (or just add more pears!)
~1 cup water
½ cup pear juice (or as much as needed to get a total of 3 cups fruit juice)
1 cinnamon stick
1” fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves, whole
2 cups sugar
½ package (about .87 oz.) low sugar pectin

Note: this is the original half recipe that I meant to make. I ended up with twice as much, but I’m pretty happy about that.

Cooking down the pears, plums, and spices in a little water.

Cooking down the pears, plums, and spices in a little water.

Slice and pit fruit, you don’t need to peel. Put all spices into a cheesecloth packet. Add water and the packet of spices to the fruit. Cook, covered, on medium or medium high heat.

Cook until fruit is mushy, about a half hour. Pears usually don’t dissolve down (unlike apples, for instance), so I often use my potato masher to help them along. Or, if you have a food mill, it would work great once the fruit is soft.

This is my set up for straining fruit for jelly. I put the cooked fruit and juice in the top colander, which drains into the sieve, which drains into the bowl. If you don't have cheese cloth this works very well.

This is my set up for straining fruit for jelly. I put the cooked fruit and juice in the top colander, which drains into the sieve, which drains into the bowl. If you don’t have cheese cloth this works very well.

Remove spices from the mixture and set aside. Strain the fruit and collect the juice. You can use my makeshift method (description in this post) if you don’t have a jelly strainer. You want 3 cups of juice. If you are short, add some pear juice (100% fruit juice). Or, you can just start with bottled juice and save yourself a bunch of time. I won’t judge.

Put three cups of juice over medium high heat, and add spices (still in the packet.) This is just to infuse as much spice flavor as possible. I only added back the cinnamon stick at this point, because I like cinnamon best.

Cooking the juice with a little sugar and pectin. You can sort of see the cinnamon stick at the bottom of the pot, which I left in for extra flavor.

Cooking the juice with a little sugar and pectin. You can sort of see the cinnamon stick at the bottom of the pot, which I left in for extra flavor.

Mix ½ cup sugar with the half packet of pectin. Add to juice, and stir until dissolved. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Add the remaining sugar and stir constantly until it’s back to a rolling boil. Once there, stir for 1 minute and remove from heat. Pull out the spices, and skim off foam. I’d probably test the set at this point, too (basically, just cool the jelly super fast, either by putting on a cold plate or spoon and setting in the freezer.)

Put in sterile jars with ¼” head space. Add sterile lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!