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.
- 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
- 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.)
- Day 2. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.