I was fortunate to receive a gift of twelve pounds of a pears from Cookie Crumb and Cranky a few weeks ago (which was just a small fraction of their trees' amazing output this year, as noted here). Unlike some backyard fruit trees (like my plum trees), the fruit was actually delicious on its own, and I suppose I could have eaten a few each day until they were gone. But with the farmers market full of summer fruit, it would be foolish to binge on pears for a week. So, of course, I turned much of the gift into preserves.
[The beautiful photo to the right was taken by Jen Maiser, not me]
The first preserve I made was Spiced Pear Butter using a recipe from Epicurious (which was originally published in Bon Appétit in December 1992). It isn't strictly local because of the quantity of sugar (1 1/2 cups for 4 pounds of pears), the spices, and the vanilla bean, but that seems to be an nearly unavoidable part of preserves (sometimes honey can be a local sweetener).
The initial steps were quite easy---core the pears, cook until soft, pass through a food mill to remove the skins---but the cooking down process was a bit unpredictable. And a bit dangerous, as the thickening liquid started to release blobs of hot pear syrup with great velocity at random intervals. A splatter screen helped a little bit. Perhaps I should have used a wide skillet for the reduction, with a fan blowing away the steam to help remove excess water.
The delicious---and shelf-stable---results compensate for the danger. The flavor is outstanding, with a strong pear flavor, hints of spice, and a background of vanilla (using a real bean made a big difference).
Pears in Red Wine
The second preserve was pears in red wine (from the CanningUSA.com site), an analogue of one of my favorite desserts, pears poached in red wine. The recipe on the website is quite basic: pear, sugar, red wine. To bring it more in line with my favorite poached pear recipe (from Pierre Franey's Cuisine Rapide), I replaced some of the sugar with honey, added a cinnamon stick, clove, part of a vanilla bean, a few black peppercorns, and a piece of orange peel to the wine-sugar-honey mixture before I turned on the heat. I slowly heated it to the boiling point, then poured the boiling liquid over pear pieces that were packed into clean jars. After placing a lid on each jar, I heated them in a boiling water bath for the directed amount of time.
I have not tasted the canned pears yet, as there is still plenty of summer fruit available. But I can say that they were delicious in their uncanned state (i.e., poached in the spiced red wine syrup for 20 minutes), especially when topped with a reduction of the spiced red wine syrup.
Other Canning Adventures
During the weekend of the pear canning, I also got together with two other food enthusiasts to make lots of pickles, can 50 pounds of tomatoes, and make "dilly beans." Bonnie has a write-up at Ethicurean about the afternoon of canning. My photos from the day are in a set on my Flickr page.