October 21, 2010

Last week, I received a charming email from a nice woman who wrote to tell me how much her family has enjoyed this blog. Letters like this just thrill me. I still am surprised, amazed, grateful and downright shocked you all come here to read about what I’m cooking.

Turned out Wendy and her family were coming to visit DC from Pulaski, Tennessee, and hoped they could bring me some pears from their 100 year old trees. Wendy and I exchanged emails and then had a wonderful (hilarious) telephone conversation. She was standing on a ladder picking pears and cows were circling the tree, evidently hoping for some windfall fruit.

A few days later, I met them all – Danny and Wendy and their two delightful kids, Carleigh and Noah – on Capital Hill.  We met for excellent pizza by the slice at Spike Mendelson’s new spot We The Pizza. Noah really hoped to see Spike, but he was nowhere to be found. The pizza was great. And the family was just wonderful.

Warm, funny hard-working farmers, they raise Berkshire hogs and now, mostly sell to restaurants and, evidently, feed a lot of people through their church.They had wonderful stories of their 1794 farmhouse, the odd little outbuildings, the orchards, their livestock, and their small town. It would be wonderful to be their neighbor. By the end of lunch, I just wanted to hug them all.

After lunch, we went to their truck where they unloaded a huge basket of pears and four gorgeous Berkshire pork bellies. (One of those is already becoming bacon, using this terrific how-to from Michael Ruhlman.) As a final treat, Wendy handed me a jar of “greasy grits beans,” promising silky, tender, tasty beans that will rock my world. Her last bit of advice was to hold back a few beans to plant next summer.

I dropped the family off at the Natural History museum and went home to contemplate this incredible bounty.

The pears were like nothing I’d ever seen. Spotted and greenish. Hard as rocks, but ripe. Scentless until cooked. I cut a couple of them up and sauteed them in butter to see what happened. They held their shape just beautifully. Preserves seemed like a good direction, and I turned to Christine Ferber for inspiration.

Pear with Caramel and Spices called to me, but had too many steps. I revised the technique just a bit, made it twice and then again the next day with my class. It’s a great recipe that makes you think of Christmas with spicy, toasty caramel flavors.

With the rest of the bounty, I made a pear sauce, like apple sauce, but with pears. Rough chopped, cooked for an hour to soften, then put it through a food mill to create a basic sauce. I flavored it with honey, lemon, cinnamon, star anise and vanilla bean then put it in a 200° oven for 14 hours, until it had reduced by about half. It’s delicious and very pear-y and cooking it overnight with the aroma filling the house made for particularly sweet dreams.

But… back to the preserves – just note – in this case, the caramel is flavoring the preserves. It’s not a milky, buttery caramel, so don’t expect that.

This is the broken caramel. Jeepers it freaked me out.

PS Wendy, of all the gifts you brought that day, Beans the cat likes the pear basket best. Of course, she won’t stay in there when I have my camera with me, only when I can’t find the camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it.


Caramel Pear Preserves
Recipe from Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures
But I fiddled with the technique and spices

Makes 5-6 half pints

2-3/4# firm, ripe pears
2-3/4 c sugar and 1-1/2 c sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp quatre epices*
7 oz orange juice
Juice of one lemon
1 packet liquid pectin or 6 oz homemade apple pectin

Wash, peel, core and cut the pears in a fine julienne
Mix the pears with the 2-3/4c sugar, spices and the juices
Allow this mixture to macerate while you make the caramel.
In a preserving pan or 5 qt heavy stockpot, over low heat, slowly dry melt the 1-1/2 c sugar. Allow it to turn color from golden to a deeper amber color. It will smell like caramel (not like burned sugar.) Don’t rush this process. Take it slowly. You shouldn’t need to stir it much, if at all.
OK, here’s the really scary part. The part that will make you think you’ve wrecked it all.
Pour in the pears and all the liquid. The caramel will break. It will make you cry a little.
Don’t worry. Just heat the whole mixture up slowly. You’re going to bring it up to 221° which will take awhile. And stir it – a lot – trying to get those pieces of caramel off the bottom of the pot and incorporated into the preserves. It’s a hellish moment. Just know that I had it, too.
By the time the preserves is at 221°, the caramel will be incorporated and it will be heavenly.
You’ll smell those spices. You’ll be happy again.
Add the pectin and bring it back up to a full boil you can’t stir down and let it boil, stirring all the while, for a full minute.
Ladle into jars, wipe the rims well, place lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

*Quatre Epices is used in all sorts of French sausages and terrines. I like the little bite of white pepper blended with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. It’s a nice blend to have in the cupboard – lovely with pears, nice with winter squashes. Give it a try.


25 Responses to “you meet the nicest people. (caramel pear preserves)”

  1. Valerie

    Those Southern pears are especially great. They are unique, heirloom I guess. I was so happy to discover them and it sounds like you were too. I’ll have to find the pear relish recipe I made this summer with them, and send it over to you. 🙂

  2. Paula

    What a lovely day together you all had. So nice that Wendy and her family made a point of visiting with you and bringing you such lovely bounty from their farm. Your pear sauce looks and sounds warm and delicious and your jelly, oh my I think I would love that on my english muffin toast bread.

    I only hope I am as lucky as you to one day meet some of my favourite bloggers/readers. Thank you for the recipe (s) and the post.

  3. Lucia

    What a great story of fabulous people meeting other fabulous people. What a small world we live in and what great things we can share with eachother. I can’t wait to see the blog post from your visit to Wendy’s farm…. Pear sauce – oh my – Is that canned, and if so, can you save some for Madame Charlotte, I know she would eat it with glee…

    • Cathy

      Hi Loosh –
      I made the pear sauce into pear butter, but would be happy to make more pear sauce for Miss Charlotte. Please give her a kiss from me, and from Louie.

  4. Jackie Gordon Singing Chef

    I’d been waiting for this recipe since you tweeted about it the other day. Love the story! What lovely people — so sweet and generous! Anyone who brings pork is tops in my book– I must remember to do that myself as a hostess gift.
    Keep on canning! Going out to pick the last tomatoes myself before the frost comes. Cheers and see you on Twitter!

  5. Sara Conner

    I just received some pears from my fall farm share. Now I know exactly what I want to do with them. Where is quatra epices sold? It sounds so exotic. Also, can you put the pears through the large grating attachment of a food processor or is it essential to julienne? Thank you for the inspiration and fantastic story of community and friendship. Sara

    • Cathy

      Hi Sara – You can make your own Quatre Epices using the recipe at Epicurious (linked above.) It smells so so good! And yes, I’m sure you could grate the pears, as long as they are very firm.

  6. Lynda

    What a lovely story! Caramel and pears sound like a match made in heaven. But I have to admit, it’s the pork belly I’m really thinking about …

    • Cathy

      I know! I’m so excited about the pork belly. One will be bacon, but there are three more to think about.

  7. Jane

    What a wonderful day! The caramel pear preserve sounds great and just what I need. I was wondering what to do with the ones in my fruit bowl that no one is eating!

  8. Domenica

    Lovely story, Cathy. Thank you for sharing it, and the recipe. Did the family happen to know what kind of pears those are? Curious! Cheers, Domenica

  9. David/Ocean Pines, MD

    I just love the way food can bring people together….we need so much more of this in today’s world!

  10. Denise

    Ok, since I found your blog I have become an avid canner. But I fear I do not have “the touch”. My strawberry/peach jam was too thin, and I just tried the fabulous sounding caramel pear jam and I can see that it is also very think in the jars. What am I doing wrong? I have followed the recipe exactly, and yet I get very thin jam. HELP. I don’t want to give up my new obsession and joy in the kitchen.

  11. cincypstrychf

    Made my first batch of this pear jam with the same exact pears that you did on Sunday. The consistency is great, nice and thick like I like jam to be but still spreadable. My pears cooked down more then I thought they should have but they may have been a little to ripe. I will try again with some more pears later in the week. Also thought this recipe to be a little to sweet for my taste but I love the quatre epices. I will be bringing the pears up to 3#’s, decreasing the sugar a bit and adding a little more spice. I think that this in combination with other items I am canning will make great Christmas gifts this year for my friends and family.
    I will submit another response and let you know how my second batch turned out.

  12. Jamie Macke

    Quick question for you. I’m fairly new to canning and haven’t made preserves before. I tried your recipe and it tastes and smells delish but is very thin and runny. Is it supposed to be that way or is it supposed to set up more like jam?

    • Jamie Macke

      After looking at the pic I’m guessing it’s supposed to set. I’ll try to reprocess. 🙂

      • Cathy

        Hi Jamie,
        Did you use commercial pectin? Follow the instructions on the package for reprocessing instructions. And remember – if it doesn’t set, just call it syrup!

  13. Charlie


    I’m new on your site. Introduce by One Vanilla Bean.

    I love your recipe for the pears. I am not a real pear lover but this sounds mouth watering.

    Wendy what a wonderful person you are! Filling others lives with blessings, is a reward in itself because you are blessed in the bargain.


  14. Cathy

    Hi Charlie! Thanks for stopping by. Wendy and her whole family were angels who dropped into my life. – Cathy

  15. Leonie

    Just made this delightful preserve to go in little tart cases with blue cheese or creamy feta cheese. I doubled the spice and everyone loves the slightly peppery spicy flavours which are just discernable when tasted on its own; pleasantly spicy and sutbley sweet which marries so well with the cheese.

    Thank you for the recipe!



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