This blog is about my journey into the world of canning, or "putting up" as others would like to call it. I will try to pickle almost anything and smash berries and sugar together on any given day. I'll also write about general baking, which is another passion of mine, but not as overwhelming, addictive or obsessive as canning has become.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Vanilla Pear Preserves

To date, this has been my favorite recipe.  Not because it's easy to make or smells good, but because I could literally drink the stuff with a straw.  Even without a straw.  I could take the lid off and drink it from the jar, easily.  It's delicious.  It tastes like velvet on a platinum spoon, if velvet tasted like melted pears laced with vanilla bean.  This stuff is absolutely to die for and will not last long if your house.  I say make a batch and throw all of the jars in the fridge, because you won't want to wait for the next jar to get cold enough to eat if it's in your cabinet. 

This was the one recipe I had zeroed in on and was keeping to the side - just waiting for pear season to finally get here.  I couldn't wait for pears to come into season so I could spend another joyful afternoon at Easy Pickin's and pick pears until I couldn't carry any more.  That usually means two full grocery bags - one for each arm.  The pear trees at Easy Pickin's are quite a distance back into the orchard - all the way up against the woods.  Although it's a magnificent walk out, on the way back with 30 pounds of pears, not as peaceful and serene. 


Asian pear tree at Easy Pickin's

I learned two major things while making my first batch of Vanilla Pear Preserves - 1) you cannot use Asian Pears for this recipe and 2) you can buy a ridiculous amount of fresh vanilla beans off of eBay for pennies.  Let's talk about #1 first.  Asian Pears - although delicious, they are not a true "pear".  I have come to learn that they are a hybrid fruit and have almost no acid in them.  So, for canning, they're kind of a disappointment.  If you are canning Asian pears you need a lot of lemon juice to balance out the acidity to make them "shelf  stable".  Adding a large quantity of lemon juice to my lemon pear preserves didn't sound like a party on a plate, so I had to make alternate arrangements.  Now, that doesn't mean that you can't make a batch of this with Asian pears and throw ALL of the jars right in the fridge.  They'll be fine that way but you cannot keep this recipe made with Asian pears on a shelf, in a cabinet, hiding behind your liquor bottles on top of the fridge, etc.   They will go bad and they will create more of a danger than anything else.  So, choose "real" pears - Bosc are what I used for my second batch and they worked beautifully. 

Now before we get into the meat of the story and talk about how the delicious aromas filled the house and how pretty the specks of vanilla bean are floating in the pear syrup, let's touch upon how awesome it is to buy vanilla beans on eBay.  I learned this from another blog and I couldn't believe it until I saw it for myself, delivered to my front door.  I literally bought a pound of vanilla beans for $20, free shipping and got 1/4 lb free, just for ordering the initial pound.  Do you know how many vanilla beans are in 1.25 pounds?  Neither do I, but it's a lot.  I have to admit that when they arrived, I felt a few waves of emotion rush over me.  Emotion #1:  pure bliss.  Emotion #2:  confusion.  Emotion #3:  fear.  All I could think when I saw the shady looking shrink wrapped bag of beans was, "is this legal?!?!"  I had to step back for a second and think about what I was looking at.  I was looking at a few hundred VANILLA BEANS.  Don't be ridiculous, Theresa.  Of course it's legal, they're just beans.  I just could not get over the fact that I spend over $10 on two shriveled up little beans in the grocery story that usually crack when I split them, and I just got a few hundred FRESH beans for $20.  True story, go check it out on eBay now.  Don't delay.  By the way, every time I open up the cabinet where the beans are hiding I am instantly hit with a wave of vanilla bliss.  Love it.

Let's talk about the actual cooking process a bit before we get to the recipe.  I did burn my tongue a few times, ok more than a few, while making this.  I was so eager to taste it that I kept trying it and every time I tried it, I burned myself.  I realize I should have learned the first time I was burned but I kept going back for more.  I love the stuff so much it was addicting.  I love how the diced pears melt just a bit but don't completely fall apart and dissolve.  You want them soft, to where you can smash them against the side of the pot with the back of your spoon.  You do not want them falling apart into a liquid mess if you touch a piece of them in the pot.  When they're at the right consistency and you spread this delicacy onto a piece of toast or slather it with some cheese, they will half give in to falling apart.  They will break away from their form a bit as you're spreading it on the toast, but a few chunks will remain.  That is the best part. 


This is before I smashed them up with the side of the spoon

After I poured the preserves into the jars and processed them, I realized that the specs of vanilla bean were so perfectly distributed it was almost like a painting.  I've always been a fan of vanilla bean specs - I used to like seeing them in vanilla bean ice cream.  It made me think I was eating something really good.  I guess I've had a thing for vanilla beans for a long time and just never realized it. To me, vanilla bean specs in your dessert mean decadence and something really awesome is about to happen.  I've never had a bad vanilla bean and now that I have over a pound of them, I will be enhancing my desserts even more freely than before. 



This recipe is a perfect Christmas gift or even a party gift if you're having a big Thanksgiving get-together.  Make everyone a jar of this, throw a festive tag and ribbon on it and you're going to amaze all your guests.  They'll wonder how you ever came up with the idea of mixing pears and vanilla and wow! look at all the vanilla bean specs in it!  Yep, you'll be the hostess with the mostess.  You'll impress even your toughest critic and they'll have a new found admiration for your canning and hostess abilities. 


Batch #1 - Asian Pears (kept in fridge)

Again, I bow down to http://www.foodinjars.com/ who came up with this recipe.  This recipe was so amazing that the only thing I did to change it was added more vanilla beans.  Instead of the 2 the recipe calls for, I added 4 or 6.  I love vanilla, what can I say?

Pear Vanilla Jam
  • 8 cups chopped Bosc pears
  • 4-6 vanilla beans, split and scraped
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 packet liquid pectin
Add the pears, sugar and beans as well as everything you scraped from them to a large pot.  Cook this mixture until the diced pears can be smashed against the side of the pot with a spoon, but not so long to where they become liquid.  If you want, you can  make a smoother sauce by using a masher or an immersion blender and blending the mixture. I like my mixture a bit chunky, so I just smashed the pears against the side of the pot until I had the consistency I was looking for.

Add the packet of liquid pectin and bring to a serious boil.  You have to let the mixture boil for 5 minutes with the pectin added so it activates and thickens the consistency of the mixture. 

Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and process in a boiling water canning bath for 10 minutes.  Remember to let them sit, undisturbed, for a few hours after you take them out of the canner.  They need to rest, cool down and relax.  Of course, make sure you test the seal on all of them before you put them on a shelf.  Kept in a cool, dry place these will keep up to a year.

If giving as a gift, create a designer tag with your own logo and tie it on with a pretty ribbon.  Your guests will love you for it.


Batch #2 - Bosc Pears in Weck Jars


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