"a partridge in a pear tree"...it makes me sing...it makes me sing the 12 days of christmas
...it makes me sing it in september
i never quite understood what a partridge in a pear tree meant..but now i get it. It means a great meal. Roast partridge with sauteed pears, a nice pinot and some kind of gooey dessert...figgy pudding perhaps? Who knew, on the first day of christmas my true love gave to me...
...dinner.I have been singing the 12 days of christmas for 3 days now--partridge, turtle doves, french hens...boy this guy was hungry. Good for him, pears are a good accompaniament for all of them.
I have been singing about pears because I have a ton of them, and have been cooking them 6 ways from Sunday since Tuesday.
Our not so little cabin in the, sort of- but not really woods, has a pear tree. A very prolific pear tree. And hopefully, this time next year, it will have 2 producing pear trees, a cherry tree, 2 apple trees, peach, plum and nectarine. If they survive this winter.
I don't like to waste. Someone must have admonished, waste not-want not, during my formative yearsm because I am insane about it. Leftover rice..make a stir-fry, make a rice pudding, make arancini. Too much basil--fill your freezer with pesto. Over run with mashed potatoes? shepherds pie, gnocchi, samosas. I'm not joking--some find it annoying, but I value a new leftover ideas as some kind of culinary lottery.
When I saw how many pears our tree had, all i could think about was the great things I would make. All those romantic notions of gathering around a farm table, music playing quietly in the background, me with my hair tied in a vintage scarf, our dogs playfully batting a pear back and forth as if it were a ball, memories and smells of my childhood wafting through the air.
..queue record being scratched by needle here...yeah, well you see...
I grew up in the city, my mom grew up in the Bronx. We're Italian. We're not canners. We don't eat from the can, we don't put in the can. Literally, my only "canning" food memory was the one summer we went to Oregon. My mom and I came across a farm stand selling flats of blackberries and blueberries. Somehow, and I still quite don't know how, my mom convinced my dad, that we should take some home. So here we were, 5 of us lugging boxes of berries onto the planeand securely placing them in the overhead bins. Can you imagine? That kind of nonsense would never fly these days.
We then spent the next 5 days making jam-the first jam I ever made and it was delicious. But we didn't can it. We put it in jars, with a one-inch wax seal. We made enough to last a lifetime.
And I don't recall making it again.
Until I met my husband.
In his house, his cabinets were lined with canned goods. Goods he canned himself. salmon, pot roast, bear. When he learned that I cook, he described his great aunt's freezer jam and asked if I could figure out how to make it.
..and that is when i learned the value in filling the pantry with the summer's bounty.
...canning speaks to me
waste not-want notI spent this last Monday picking pears from our tree. Interestingly, pears don't ripen well on the tree. They are pretty hard when first picked, but within a couple of days the sugars explode and the once hard nugget is soft and very juicy. I am still waiting for some of them to come around. Those will get a light syrup and be canned peeled and cored but not cooked.
What I have been cooking however has made me quite pleased.
I made my very first pear chutney on Tuesday...and I served it with roast pork that evening.
Overnight, in the crock pot, I made pear sauce (like applesauce)...and then cooked 10 hours more to make pear butter--luscious, unctious, pear butter.
I poached pears in wine with spices making a delicious dessert for company.
I am prepared for my Christmas giving and my pantry is full. Three days in the kitchen, minding my pears, has proven to be very productive.
Take 5 lbs of peeled, cored and chopped unripe pears, 3 sticks of cinnamon, 1 tsp cardamom pods (crushed), peel of two lemons, juice of 1 lemon, 1 Tbs of mustard seed and place in a pot. Add enough water to just cover and simmer on the stove top until pears begin to just soften. Meanwhile,in a bowl combine 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 6 oz candied ginger, 1/2 tsp cayenne (or more to taste), 1 tsp (or more) ground cinnamon, 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup dried cherries, 1 cup golden raisins, and 2 cups chopped onions. Drain the pears--but reserve the water. In the pot place 2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar and the reserved liquid. Boil together until it begins to reduce and thickens slightly..it should reduce by 1/3. Add back the pears and all the remaining ingredients. Simmer on the stovetop until thick and sticky. This will take several hours and should be kept on low. You can also place in an oven but take care to check it to make sure it does not burn. Before canning, check for spice balance and sugar/vinegar balance...to your liking. If you add more vinegar, be sure to cook it down. Use proper canning procedures to ensure a safe and sanitary product.
So simple...Fill your crock pot with whole pears. Add about 1/2 inch of water. Cover and set the pot on low overnight. The next day, remove the pears and run them through a food mill or potato ricer. Throw any liquid from the crock pot away and put the puree back into the crock pot. You now have pear sauce. Add as much sugar as you want, and spices to your liking. I add a bit of salt, ground cinnamon and ground ginger..and a bit of dark brown sugar. You can can this or carry on and make pear butter. If making the butter, do not over sweeten or over season. You are reducing, so your flavors will get more powerful. You can add orange zest, ground cloves, cardamom, just about anything you like. Turn the crock pot on again, and let it go another 8-10 hours. Do not place the lid firmly back on the pot, you want evaporation, so leave it askew, or off completely if you are the confident sort. Taste and adjust sweetness and seasoning periodically. When it gets thick, like a pudding, or a curd, it is ready. I like to take a hand blender and make it smooth, but it's not necessary. Place in sterilized jar and use proper canning procedure
full disclosure--i was using the crock pot to make another batch of pear sauce, so I cooked this butter down on the stovetop
before the water bath
Peel, halve and core the pears. Place in a stockpot and cover with wine of your choice. I like to use savignon blanc and muscat combination...but you can use any wine you want. If you are using a really dry wine, use a bit of sugar to "tame" it. The pears look beautiful when cooked in a red wine. Add spices. I like to use cinnamon sticks, anise, lemon peel (pith removed), orange peel (pith removed), black peppercorns and a few whole cloves. You can add bay leaf, cardamom, ginger, white peppercorns. Be creative. Simmer on the stovetop until the pears are soft. You can store in the refrigerator in the poaching liquid, or you can remove the pears and cook the liquid down to a syrup and drizzle over the pears, or over the pears that are sitting over ice cream. You can also add some more sugar and then spin into a sorbet or freeze into a granita. Use the liquid as it is and add fruit and make a cocktail out of it...add grand marnier and call it a sangria. So many options...use it all.