It’s been kind of a crazy summer. In the sense that I’ve been canning like a madwoman.
I have been more than a little obsessed with canning fruits and veggies this summer, and I’ve taken to calling it a ‘fit’ of sorts, because it seems to have arrived from out of the blue. Last summer was my first for making freezer jam and one or two actual canning experiments, but this summer has erupted into a frenzy of hot jars and boiling water baths. I’m not sure exactly what is spawning this in me, because I certainly don’t need to put up the hundreds of jars our ancestors had to before the advent of modern food storage and supermarkets.
That doesn’t mean I should supress the urge I have whenever I see a bin of ripe fruit on sale . . . speaking to me out loud, saying, “Can me. Boil me in sugar and seal me in a hot glass jar. DO IT!!!”
(Okay, to set the record straight, fresh produce is not talking to me. What do you think I am, crazy?)
My latest spell in canning has been in fruit butters. Last week it was Peach Butter, and just this past week, a variation on Pear Butter. It was actually supposed to just be pears in this pear butter, but in mid-prep I happened to peek inside the fridge and find the latest box of slightly overripe fruit I got sent home with from work (one of the perks of working at a farm that specializes in delicious produce). There was a handful of those red plums that went into that olive oil cake awhile back, two black plums, a peach and a nectarine. A lot like life, canning is nothing if not an adventure, so this motley group got chopped up and simmered along with the pears. Once they were soft, I passed them through the food mill to puree and get rid of the peels and seeds. This, my friends, is where it started to get interesting.
Out of nowhere I remembered a tiny bottle of ginger vodka that I’ve had in my pantry for at least 5 years (does vodka go bad? It tasted fine . . .) It occurred to me that ginger would be excellent in this mash-up of fruit, and since the alcohol would all cook off, I didn’t hesitate in adding it. Owing to the fact that there was only about a tablespoon left in the bottle (funny, I don’t remember drinking it), it added only a slight ginger zing, so I added about a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger. Loved it.
Next for the sugar. Last fall I actually did make pear butter, but the recipe I used called for 4 whole cups of sugar for 6 pounds of fruit. I followed the recipe to the letter and that pear butter turned out so sweet I’m getting cavities just thinking about it. For this batch, I ended up adding a mere half cup of sugar before the butter was sufficiently sweet for me.
It is so delicious. I love it. I love it even more than the peach butter I made last week, and it is definitely up there with my favorite jams for what I want to put on my morning toast. Or biscuit. I hope you take advantage of all the glorious fruit that’s in the world right now and make this butter. Stat.
Pear (+ Plum + Nectarine + Peach) Ginger Butter adapted from my mother-in-law’s recipe
5 pounds ripe pears (or combination of pears and stone fruit)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (or more, depending on your taste)
1 tablespoon ginger vodka (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Wash fruit. Do not peel. Cut in half, then cut each half into quarters (the idea being each piece of fruit is cut into evenly sized pieces). Add fruit and about 1/2 cup water to a large stockpot and cook over medium, stirring occasionally so that fruit does not stick to bottom. Cook for about 10 minutes or until very soft.
Using a slotted spoon and working in batches, scoop fruit pieces out of the pot and pass through a food mill. Discard solids. There will be quite a bit of the fruit’s liquid remaining in the pot, and you can strain this and refrigerate to drink as juice later. By not adding this liquid back to the fruit puree, you are cutting down on the time it takes to thicken the fruit pretty substantially.
(Note: If you don’t have a food mill, you can peel and core the fruit in advance, strain the fruit into a food processor and pulse into a puree that way. Don’t over puree it or it will become too much of a liquid and you’ll be left canning pear juice.)
Return the puree to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. A splatter guard is useful here-the fruit absolutely will splatter and it will burn! (Keep small children and frail animals out of the kitchen at this point.) Stir in the vodka, if using, the ground ginger, the sugar, and the lemon juice. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently until the puree has taken the form more of a spread and less of a liquid. You can tell it is done when you can trace a design in the butter and it does not dissolve back into itself. Be prepared to spend a lot of time at the stove, as in an hour or more. But don’t get discouraged; keep it low and slow, stirring often, and you’ll get there.
Fill either a large, tall pot or canner 3/4 of the way full and bring to a boil on the stove. While that is heating (and it will take awhile) sterilize jars either by running them through a dishwasher or by boiling them in water for 10 minutes, then keeping them warm in a 180 degree oven. Sterilize caps by simmering in water for ten minutes (do not boil). Remove jars one by one with rubber coated canning tongs. Set each hot jar on a clean dishtowel, and using a funnel, ladle your hot prepared fruit butter into the jar, leaving 1/2-inch headspace at the top. Run a rubber spatula around the sides of the jar and then wipe the lid with a clean, damp, dishcloth. Put on cap, being careful not to touch the underside, and screw on the metal bands.
Using tongs, set each jar (they should be very hot still from both the sterilization and the hot fruit inside) into the canner and lower the rack, if using. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Reduce heat if needed to keep up a steady, but not violent boil.
Hurray for canning! I hope you have as much fun with this as I am.