On Sunday I took advantage of my first post-flu burst of energy and spent most of the day playing catch up in the kitchen. I began testing and tweaking a chocolate cake recipe for an upcoming cooking project, made pizza dough for the freezer, baked a couple of loaves of sandwich bread, assembled a scallop pie for the rainy night’s comfort supper, and dealt with the three-and-one-half pounds of Bartlett pears in the fridge by turning them into a brown sugar and nutmeg spiced pear butter.
I’ve written before of my love of Bartlett pears. This preserve is one of the nicest ways I know to cook with pears and be able to enjoy their buttery, sweet juiciness during the lean months of winter. Essentially a thickened fruit puree, pear butter is much less sweet and not as jelled as a fruit jam or jelly. Silky smooth, spoonable, spreadable; fabulous eaten on toast, over ice cream, alongside a warm wedge of gingerbread , or even (as I confess I did when it was still warm) straight out of the jar – if you love pears as much as I do, you’ll want to give this butter a try before the season’s fresh Bartletts disappear.
If this will be your first time canning, congratulations and beware: You might just become addicted to the pursuit.
You will need (4) 1/2 pint jam jars with lids and rings, a canning pot fitted with metal rack for holding the jars during processing, one large saucepan for cooking the fruit and another large saucepan for sterilizing, a metal spoon, ladle, tongs and/or jar grabber, and a wide neck funnel.
- 2 Tbsp. apple juice
- 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 3 1/2 pounds ripe Bartlett pears
- 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Fill a deep canning pot with cold water to within two inches of the top of the pot. Fit this with the metal jar rack, cover, and set on the stove to bring the water to boil. (Note: if the water starts boiling before you are ready to process your jars, simply shut the heat off and keep the lid on to maintain the warmth of the water. You can re-light the flame under the pot a few minutes before you are ready to process.)
Fill a second large saucepan with water, cover, and bring the water to a boil. Wash all the utensils you will use as well as the jars and lids. Rinse well. When this pot of water boils, place the spoon, ladle, tongs, and funnel in there and boil for five minutes to sterilize. Handles of spoon, tongs and ladle do not have to be submerged. Carefully remove all these from the water using the sterilized tongs, and place on a clean rack or piece of parchment. Turn the heat off under the water, reserving the water bath for sterilizing the jars later.
Combine the apple juice and 2 Tbsp. of the lemon juice in a second large saucepan. Quarter, core, and peel the pears, and cut each quarter into 4 – 6 chunks, depending on the size of the pears. Place the pears in the juice as soon as you have cut them to slow any browning. Once done with all the pears, stir the fruit together with the juices and place on medium heat.
Cook the pear chunks until the liquids begin to release from the fruit and come to a boil. When boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently with the sterilized metal spoon for 15 minutes as the fruit softens.
After 15 minutes, reduce the heat a bit more, cover the pot, and continue to cook the fruit until very soft, another 15 or 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Puree the fruit in the pot until very smooth using a stick blender. (Alternately you may use a food mill fitted with the fine-hole plate, and puree the fruit into a separate bowl, returning the fruit to the cooking pot when finished.)
Add to the pureed fruit, the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, the brown sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Stir well. Place the pot over medium heat once again and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the mixture until it thickens and you have about 4 cups of fruit puree. Stir frequently. This will take about 30 minutes to reduce at a steady simmer, but be prepared for more or less time.
While the fruit puree thickens, bring the pot of sterilizing water back to the boil (add more water if the water level is low after the first boiling). Add to the pan the 4 jars, lids, and rings, and boil all for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the jars in the hot water to keep them warm for filling.
Restart the heat under the canning pot as well, and bring this water back to a boil.
When the puree has thickened to 4 cups, remove the saucepan from the heat. Remove the warm, sterilized jars and lids from the water bath and place on the clean parchment. Fit one jar at a time with the wide neck funnel and ladle puree into each jar, leaving 1/4-inch space at the top of the jar. Wipe puree from the tops of the jars or the threads if any has dripped using a damp piece of paper towel. Fit the tops with lids and screw rings on over these. The rings should be screwed to barely tightened; leave a little give in the tops.
When all jars have been filled and sealed, place each in a space in the canning rack. Lower the rack into the boiling water bath. Jar tops should be well covered with water. Cover the pot and process the jars in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Using tongs or jar grabbers, remove the processed jars to a clean towel set on the counter. Within a few seconds, you should hear the “thunk” of the metal lid sealing. The “button” on the lid should also look slightly concave and no longer convex. If you do not hear the thunk on one or more of the jars, simply return them to the boiling water bath for another 5 minutes, remove to the towel, and wait for the noise.
Allow all the jars to cool undisturbed on the towel overnight. Twist the rings a bit to tighten slightly and store pear butter in a cool dry place.
This recipe is easily doubled if you have a bounty of pears.
©2011 Jane A. Ward