There’s a right way and a wrong way to deal with random bits of food. The wrong way is the way of… someone close to me. Someone whom I love so so much. Someone who rhymes with “scmother”. This way involves putting a large Tupperware container in the freezer, using it to create a stratum of progressive leftovers. When the container is full, defrost, dump in a pot, cover with water, salt to taste, and call it soup.
The ensuing rebellion at this gruel ensured that ‘leftover soup’ did not happen again.
(I should take a brief parental detour here and let you know that we children did not
run the household. However, having simple majority, sometimes our outcries counted as a democratic decision. If the vote was split, but mom liked the controversial dish, a repeat was likely. We still have yells about something known as King Ranch Chicken. I am in the “like it” camp; Homesick Texan has a yummy sounding recipe
on her site.)
(Another parent/food/geocultural bunny trail: One time we were gifted with a casserole that, apparently, was called Fish Saute. Being children of Seattle, we always thought it was called Fish Latte. Even typing this out, that’s where my fingers went.
Fish Latte. It’ll be the Flavor of the Day at some drive-thru coffee stand in Monroe soon. If I’m right about that, you all owe me twenty bucks.)
Okay, back from… wherever that went. Oy vey. I spent my Saturday night* examining different ways to use fruit (specifically pear) scraps. One is straightforward pear butter. The other way spawned two recipes, one for canned cinnamon pears and one for pear-scrap apple jelly. Unless you like canning (I find it soothing) or you’re bored out of your gourd and want to spend three hours with pears, I recommend splitting these methods up. It’s a lot of pear time.
*If the idea of me at home experimenting with pears on a Saturday night makes you sad for me, please know that earlier in the day I had a date. Part of the date unexpectedly involved watching police with assault weapons lock down parts of the city and search for an armed suspect. We also strolled through an open-air flea market and had coffee. So, my day wasn’t so very spinstery.
Whole-Fruit Pear Butter
10 medium pears, washed and cut into large chunks (do not peel or core)
1 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup agave or other sweetener, or to taste
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon vanilla
zest and juice of 1 orange
Put the pears into the pot of a 5 quart slow cooker (I just kept cutting pears until the crock was full.) Mix the water and lemon juice, then add to the pot. Cover and cook on high until the pears are very soft. I left mine for 6 hours. (You could also do this on the stove top, but obviously the time will be much shorter.)
Process the stewed fruit through a food mill. Do not return the scraps to the pot. This is a very waste-less recipe; mostly what was left in my mill was the seeds and stems.
Add the rest of the ingredients. (If you have a Microplane, use it to grate the ginger and zest the orange right into the pot.) Let it cook with the lid propped open until thickened to your liking. (Alternatively, put into a pot or wide pan and cook over medium heat until bubbly and thickened.)
A good way to test for the true thickness of a butter, or the gel of a jam, is to keep some small plates or bowls in the freezer. Put a spoonful of the spread on the frozen dish and return to the freezer for a minute. Poke it. Like what you see? Can your spread. If not, boil for a little longer. If I forget to put a dish in the freezer, I’ll swirl some around on the inside of the pint glasses we keep frozen.
Prepare your jars and lids. Once ready, fill the jars to 1/4″ of tops, remove bubbles, wipe rims, and apply lids. Return to the water, bring to a boil again, and boil for 15 minutes.
Remove, let cool, and check seals (remove the rings and hold the jar slightly above the counter by the rim. If it’s sealed, it should stay put.) Wipe down the jars, write the date and contents on the lid, and store up to a year.
Makes 7 half-pints
Canned Cinnamon Pears
10-12 medium pears (eyeball as you go… this is a very “eyebally” recipe)
7 1/2 cups apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks, broken or cut into 7 pieces total
Prepare your jars and lids.
Peel and core the pears, saving those scraps for the jelly recipe below. Cut the pears into chunks or slices and put them in an anti-browning agent. (I crush 6 500-mg vitamin C tabs in a bowl and add warm water to dissolve.)
When jars are ready, put the apple juice in a pot, put a lid on, and bring it to a boil. Remove from heat. Remove the jars from the water and fill each jar, first with a cinnamon stick, and then to the top with pears. (Because this is a raw-pack, the pears will shrink a little in the jar as they’re cooked.) Fill with hot apple juice to 1/2″ of top. Wipe rims and apply lids. Return to water, bring to a boil, and boil for 25 minutes.
Remove, let cool, and check seals. Remove rings and wipe down jars. Write date and contents on lid. You shouldn’t reuse the lids (the rings are all right as long as they’re not rusty) and the best way to remember which ones have been used already is to write right on them. (By the way, those new Sharpie pens aren’t permanent on metal.) If you don’t like the look, you can always cover it later with fabric or a tagboard circle.
Pears take well to many spices. If you don’t have cinnamon sticks, try using Chinese five-spice powder, a star anise, rosemary, lavender, or crushed fennel seed (this last one may be a bit strong for most people to steep in the jars, so put it in a spice bag or tea strainer and remove from the juice before canning).
Makes 7 pints.
Okay, this last recipe didn’t work the first time. I threw some sugar in the pan with the juice, added some conventional pectin… and it didn’t gel. I know what I did wrong: I didn’t use enough sugar. Now I have 5 jars of apple-pear syrup. Good for mixed drinks or pouring over a porous cake. The lesson here: Live and learn and rename it something fabulous if it doesn’t turn out. Once I doubled a recipe for chocolate-chip cookies. Except I forgot to double the flour. The doughballs melded into one. No worries though, right? I cut the Pangea cookie into squares and called them Toffee Bars. Delicious!
(UPDATE 9/15!) Um… it didn’t work the second time EITHER. Pomona’s pectin takes time to gel. You won’t normally see the gel until the jar and contents have completely cooled. I went to wipe down my jars of “jelly” last night… and they hadn’t gelled. So now I have MORE jars of syrup. This stuff doesn’t have added sugar, so I guess I could always just drink it, but I don’t know why it didn’t work! I created this recipe directly from the instructional pamphlet that comes in the pectin box. Any ideas?
Pear-Scrap Apple Jelly
Prepare your jars.
Use the scraps from the canned pears recipe. Put the peels and cores in a wide pan and cover with apple juice to about 1/2″ above the scrap level. Bring to a simmer and simmer until the scraps are soft, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Place a strainer double-lined with cheesecloth over a bowl. I used my 8-cup measuring cup. Strain the juice, and once cool enough to handle, gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze as much more juice out as you can. You should have about 5 cups of liquid. Set aside one cup, and return the remaining liquid to the pan.
To the larger amount of juice, add 4 teaspoons of Pomona’s calcium water and stir well. Bring the remaining cup of juice to boil in a separate pan. Put it into a blender, add 4 teaspoons of Pomona’s pectin powder, and blend with lid vented for a minute or two until all the powder is dissolved. Bring the fruit in the big pan to a boil. Add the pectin-juice and stir for one minute. Return to a boil and remove from heat.
Skim off foam. Fill jars to 1/4″ of top. Wipe rims and apply lids. Put jars into canner and bring back to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Check seals, wipe down jars, label and date, and enjoy on soft white toast or hearty oatmeal scones.
Makes 4 half-pints (approximate).
Recommended accompaniment: “Another Saturday Night,” by Cat Stevens