It took a perfect storm of a new backyard pear tree with more pears than I knew one tree could produce and a new cookbook to get me to make my first jam without pectin. And while I did try a pectin based jam in my pear-a-palooza canning fest, these two without pectin actually ended up with a better set. If a food preservation book like Kevin West’s Saving the Season was intimidating before, I learned that making preserves is never fool proof and sometimes you just have to go for it.
I started with the Pear Jam recipe in the book which incorporates a whole vanilla bean (and yes, I did buy a half pound of them from Amazon) and also ended up making the Smooth Pear Jam with Cardamom variation which swaps the vanilla for cardamom pods. The images below are from both recipes since the process was virtually identical.
Step one, dice up five pounds of pear (per batch) and drop in a water and lemon juice mix. The recipe called for this being two cups of water plus lemon juice but I found that I needed way more liquid to get the pears in all the way so I made more of the mixture.
Once pears are prepped, they are drained and added to a bowl with lemon juice, sugar, honey and a vanilla bean. For my cardamom batch I swapped the vanilla bean with a small sachet of crushed cardamom pods and some lemon rind. For the latter, the original recipe does not include lemon rind and the pods end up going through a food mill so they are left in the jam. I don’t have a food mill so I used the cheesecloth in order to easily remove them and figured the lemon rind could stay in the end product.
The sweetened fruit mixture then sits and macerates for at least two hours or overnight. Because I busted a jar in my canning pot from an earlier batch, these ended up in the refrigerator overnight so I could have a clean canning pot the next day.
Now we’re jammin’. Bring to boil, reduce to gel point, about 20 minutes.
I was reading the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking blog (I also have the book from the same aunt who gave me this cookbook!) and she said that you can actually tell a lot from the bubbles in your jam as it related to gel point. Earlier in the process the bubbles are smaller and close together but once you are at the gel point they are bigger and darker. I never knew this before but could definitely tell the difference once pointed out!
If you’re using a food mill or immersion blender to make this a smooth jam, you do it 10 minutes into boiling but since I didn’t use that step I continued on. Gel point gets checked (a dab on a cold plate, into the freezer until it’s cooled and see if it’s the right consistency) and then into hot prepared jars! I used half pint jars that then were processed in the boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
I left the skin on the pears because 1) I like the texture and 2) it’s pretty but really 3) I’m lazy. This recipe turned out a very beautiful jam and while I love vanilla, I might be partial to the uniqueness of the cardamom. Below, vanilla bean on the left with the little ‘v’ on the lids and cardamom on the right with the ‘c’ on the lids.
The vanilla bean caviar in a light colored jam like this, though, is just beautiful. Next year when I have pears coming out of my ears again I’ll probably try vanilla bean AND cardamom for the best of both worlds.
Pear Jam from Saving the Season (notes in parenthesis and italics)
5 pounds ripe pears
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used the real lemon juice for my jam but the kind that comes in a fake fruit-looking squeeze bottle for the acid in the water because it’s easier! Also, you may need more lemon juice since you may need more water with acid than is called for)
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I used a full bean since I love vanilla!) OR 5-6 crushed cardamom pods
1. Peel (if desired or skin is thick) and core the pears, and cut them into 1/2-inch dice. As you work, place the diced pears in a bowl with 2 cups of water acidulated with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, to prevent browning. (I needed 6-8 cups of water to soak all my pears and that means 3-4 tablespoons of lemon juice which is easiest if you’re using the bottled kind for this purpose!)
2. Drain the pears, and toss them in a bowl with the remaining 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir in the sugar, honey, and vanilla bean. Set aside to macerate for 2 hours or overnight.
3. Turn the fruit-sugar mixture into a preserving pan, bring to a boil, and reduce over high heat to the gel point, about 20 minutes. (If you are going to make a smooth jam, cook 10 minutes, remove vanilla bean if using, then pass through food mill and continue to cook to gel point.) Discard the vanilla bean. Ladle the hot jam into six prepared 1/2-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Seal, and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
Note from the author: Adding 2 tablespoons per eau-de-vie, also known as Poire Williams, will boost flavor in either of the preceding pear jam recipes.