Pear & Pumpkin Ale Preserves

At long last, the infamous pear & pumpkin ale preserves experiment! Pear & pumpkin seem to go together naturally (and not just because of the awesome alliteration): their growing seasons overlap by at least a month; they are both sweet, yet with their own distinct notes, pears more floral and delicate, pumpkins an earthy, rich, root-vegetable sweetness; the classic autumnal spices, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg & cloves, go nicely with both; even the colors work well together (if my wedding had any kind of ‘color scheme’, it was orange & green, my favorites).

Since pumpkin itself is notoriously difficult when it comes to canning, and these Bartlett pears from Madura Farms were so lusciously ripe and fragrant, I wanted to craft a preserve in which the pears could sing, but one that combined the best flavors of autumn. I had a Ferberesque preserve in mind, soft slices of pear swimming in a just-barely-set syrup. Yet, since I’m always cutting the sugar in a typical Ferber-style jam way, way down, I need to add some sort of liquid in order to provide enough syrup to coat the fruit. This liquid is usually either fruit juice or booze of some sort: I did think of a nice floral chardonnay, but when I opened the fridge for inspiration, a Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale leapt into view.

Turns out I’m not the only one to think that the mildly sweet, lightly spiced and nicely pumpkiny Shipyard pumpkin brew would work well in a recipe: Shipyard’s Chef Gordon has whipped up a few recipes of his own (and honestly, how could I resist Pumpkinhead Whoopie Pies? Although that scant 1/4 cup of beer is barely qualifying, methinks.). I’m happy to say the Pumpkinhead worked very nicely in this preserve: both pumpkin and beer flavors come through, but mildly, so as not to overshadow the star attraction, the sweet, floral Bartlett pears. The set was about perfect, even without the addition of extra pectin (I apologize that there is no picture of an open jar, but Tai gobbled up the small bit of leftovers before I could photograph, and if you could see the number of open jars in my fridge right now, you’d understand why I am loathe to crack yet another), and the flavor really lovely, if just a tad too sweet for my taste (next time I will up the lemon juice a bit, or maybe add malt vinegar: see Options).

Paradoxically, pumpkin ales tend to disappear from the stores by Halloween, making way for the Christmas holiday beers, so if you want to try this preserve, you should stock up on your favorite pumpkin tipple now. If pumpkin ale is not your thing, I think the sweetness of the pears could handle a hoppier beer, but I would keep it on the light side: an Octoberfest, a wheat beer, maybe an IPA. I think anything darker than that would overwhelm the flavor of the pears. All in all, I call this experiment a success, and one that I’m sure to repeat next year.

———————————————————-

Pear & Pumpkin Ale Preserves

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 lbs pears, peeled, cored, thinly sliced (I used Bartlett)
  • 1 lb (2 cups) raw sugar (organic turbinado)
  • 1, 12-oz bottle pumpkin ale, or other pale, slightly sweet beer (I used Shipyahhhd Pumpkinhead)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick (4 inches long)
  • pinch nutmeg

METHODS

  1. Day 1. Combine pears, sugar, beer, lemon juice, cinnamon stick and nutmeg in a large, wide preserving pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, transfer to a heat-safe bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. (Or for several nights. Ahem.)
  2. Day 2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  3. Strain juice into a large, wide preserving pot or Dutch oven; add cinnamon stick to juice. Reserve fruit. Bring to a boil over high heat; boil vigorously, without stirring, until syrup reaches the set point: 220 degrees F on an accurate thermometer, or a dollop wrinkles on the frozen plate test, about 15 – 20 minutes. I removed the cinnamon stick after 5 minutes of boiling: leave in, or out, depending on how much cinnamon flavor you want in the final product. Remove prior to canning.
  4. Add pears and any remaining juice. Bring back to a boil and continue to boil over high heat, stirring only to prevent sticking, until preserves return to the set point, about 5 – 10 minutes. Fill hot jars to 1/4-inch headspace, remove air bubbles, wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields about 4 and 1/2 cups.

OPTIONS

  1. This did come out a bit sweet for me: so much depends on the variety, ripeness, and growing season of your pears. I don’t think I could use less sugar and still get adequate syrup to surround the fruit, but next time I might increase the lemon; perhaps zest & juice of 1 lemon (typically around 1/4 cup juice) or maybe a a few tablespoons of malt vinegar to amp up the beer flavor.
  2. I’m quite sure that all of the alcohol in this preserve cooks off by the time you reach the set point, but if you are concerned about alcohol, you could try a combination of apple juice and malt vinegar for a similar flavor. Do not substitute in pumpkin juice as it is low-acid it may make the recipe unsafe for canning (it’s fine to use if you want to store in the fridge, but the higher pH may affect the set).

STORE

Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.

SEASON

Fall.

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30 comments

  1. Well, I’ve got pears on the counter and now I’ve got pumpkin ale on the shopping list. This just sounds so good, Kaela. Your instinct to bump up the lemon sounds right to me, too, including the zest. If I try it, I’ll let you know how it works out over here. :-)

  2. Jen roney

    I happen to have some Ichabod Crane pumpkin ale in the house…(belonging to hubby). I don’t like beer myself (with so much good vodka out there…) but will I like this anyway?

    • Hi Jen,

      Well, the actual ‘beer’ flavor in my preserve was quite mild, and very sweetened by the pear & sugar. But it honestly depends on the beer you are using, the flavor of your pears, etc. If you can take a sip of the beer, think, “Hmm, OK but not really my bag.” then I might give it a shot. If a single sip makes you shudder and get the Bitter Beer Face, well then.. maybe you are better off with a hard cider, or fruity chardonnay. Or, does anyone make a pumpkin vodka? Oooo, I’m sensing another project. :)

  3. I just started a half gallon of stout vinegar using Keegan’s Mother’s Milk. I’m going to try an IPA as well. I have quince, apples and rose hips that need jellying, so maybe I’ll throw some beer on one or the other batch to see what happens.

  4. I am so wishing I had more pears right now! I pickled all of the Seckel pears I got on Saturday, And my youngest nephew told me he LOVES pears almost as much as he loves peaches so I did pear slices for him. Who can turn turn a cute 6 year old? Especially when he is giving you a hug and kiss when he is asking? I see more pears coming this weekend. And of course beer!

  5. Pingback: Can – Do Attitude « Wooly Mama

  6. “if you could see the number of open jars in my fridge right now, you’d understand why I am loathe to crack yet another”
    Ha! I resemble this remark!
    This looks super yummy!

  7. Being a beer nut, i LOVE this recipe (I went with bluepoint pumpkin and dogfish punkin 2010).

    I’m fairly new to canning, so I had 2 questions about your methods here (they’re different from what I’ve encountered so far) – Why quickly cook it the night before, instead of just letting everything soak together? And why cook the syrup first, then add the fruit, instead of just cooking it all together (I’m guessing maybe it has to do with keeping the fruit a little firmer?)?

    • Hi Jessica,

      I applaud your taste: Dogfish Punkin is one of my all-time favorites.

      As for you questions: the reason for the quick simmer before macerating is to get all the sugar to go into solution. Otherise it tends to sit at the bottom of the bowl; just makes macerating more efficient. And yes, the reason for straining the fruit out and bringing the syrup to the gel point first is to keep the fruit as fresh as possible: especially with pears, as they are so soft, if you cooked them for 15 minutes, they would just distingrate. Still tasty – just different.

      Enjoy,
      Kaela

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  10. Marjorie

    This is the best recipe for preserving pears I have ever tasted. Everyone i give it to loves it. I want to try it again using a Christmas ale like Mad Elf. Has anyone tried that or one similar?

  11. twyla

    I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself, planning for next year’s Christmas gifts already… this recipe sounds great but I’m wondering how you would eat it? On its own? With sweet or savory dishes? Thanks!

  12. Hi Twyla,

    This is definitely a sweet preserve: it will work well on toast, in yogurt, etc., like regular jams. But I do tend to use most of my sweet preserves in savory applications: as a glazed for grilled chicken, a marinade for braised pork, and so on. The best thing to do it make a batch, taste it and decide for yourself!

  13. Hilary

    This looks amazing! I was thinking of using Southern Tier’s Pumking Ale in my batch, but it contains pumpkin puree. Do you think it would be safe to can?

  14. elapine

    As other folks are still commenting on this post two years later, then I’ll happily chime in to say I made this too! With a non-pumpkin beer! And it’s lovely! Bartlett pears + Central Waters’ Hop Rise, a gorgeous perfumey IPA + a handful of coriander seeds from the garden. The aroma was beery/malty while cooking but in the end the flavor is subtle and almost purely pear. It’s a clean, refreshing alternative to my usual vanilla-bean-based pear jams. Inspired to try it again with a new brew–thank you!

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