“Burnt” is such an ugly word. “Caramelized” is so much prettier, inspiring visions of caramel apples, gooey caramel melting into a sundae, or caramel candies festooned with America’s favorite pork product. Let’s face it, there is a fine line between “caramelized” and “burnt” and it is mostly one of taste: does it taste good (caramelized) or bad (burnt)? In fact, the very definition of ‘caramel’ can be “burnt sugar“ (although most do not put it quite so crassly). So why the vocabulary lesson for your Monday morning? Well, it’s all a long-winded way of saying: I burnt the jam and I liked it.
The plan for this jam was a straight-up version of D’Anjou pear with vanilla bean, right out of Mes Confitures, with of course, a drastic reduction in the sugar. Despite all of my bitching about Mme. Ferber’s seminal ode to sugar (emphasis on the sugar) + fruit, I am in love with the method, which not only produces a beautiful syrup + whole fruit preserve, but also allows me to procrastinate for a few days if need be (not that I ever do that). But a problem I find is that, in vastly reducing the sugar:fruit ratio in these jams, I often do not have the right amount of liquid to produce syrup for all the fruit. I’ve countered that in the past by adding wine, or apple pectin stock, or other liquids, but for this jam, I just wanted pure pear flavor, enhanced only by vanilla bean. Another problem with this particular batch? I just wasn’t paying attention. I had the jam bubbling away on the stove, in my spanky new Le Creuset, while I was making labels on the computer for yet another pear preserve. Luckily I smelled the jam starting to caramelize just as I heard the fruit starting to stick and jumped up from my desk to stir. I thought the jam might be ruined, but when I reduced the heat and tasted it, I found it was delicious. I decided to raise the heat again, give it a stir, and let it caramelize a bit more. And the moral of the story? Some kitchen accidents are happy ones. Take advantage of vocabulary, name it something spectacular, and when people ask, say confidently “I meant to do that.”
Adapted from Pear with Vanilla in Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber
- 3 lbs pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced to 1/2-inch pieces (I used D’Anjou)
- juice of 1 large lemon
- 1 and 1/2 cups sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)
- 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise (I used Mexican beans)
- Day 1. Add sliced pears, lemon juice, sugar and vanilla beans to a medium stockpot (4-quart) or Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Transfer mixture to a heat-safe bowl, cover, and store refrigerated overnight.
- Day 2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Transfer pear mixture to a colander suspended over a large bowl to strain fruit from juice. Add juice to a wide, heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add vanilla beans. Continue to boil until juice reduces, thickens and begins to bubble thickly (about 214 degrees F on an instant thermometer). Remove vanilla beans and set aside.
- Add pears to juice and return to a boil. Cook at a lively boil, over medium-high heat, until liquid thickens, pears soften and threaten to stick to the pan. To caramelize pears, reduce heat to medium and allow to cook, without stirring, until just browned (you will smell the pears browning); stir and ‘caramelize’ once again, then remove from heat, ladle into hot, sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If you like, you may snip the used vanilla beans into segments and add one segment to each jar before sealing.
Yields about 4 and 1/2 cups.
- To caramelize pears (on purpose): I admit I ‘caramelized’ my pears by accident, while not attending to the pears and letting the liquid reduce too much. However, the delicous result could be reproduced without the happy kitchen accident. Try this method: while the pear juice is reducing in a Dutch oven, lightly caramelize the fruit, in batches if necessary, in a large, dry skillet over medium to medium-low heat, turning only once to brown both sides. Add caramelized pears to juice once juice is reduced & syrupy, then continue with the recipe.
- You may safely add more sugar to the recipe: the original recipe calls for 3 and 3/4 cups sugar to 2 and 1/4 lbs fruit. Adding another 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar might be beneficial in increasing the syrup:fruit ratio.
- Pears are not quite as acidic as apples, nor do they contain quite as much pectin, so the addition of lemon juice here helps with a boost of acidity for both safety and set. As pears are, however, safely acidic for water bath canning, bottled lemon juice is not required.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.
Late summer to early Fall.