Reflections of Preserving Season

I keep saying I'm done, that I will not can any more this year.  I went so far as to send home all extra paper grocery sacks of clean pints and quart jars with my Mom when she last visited, an attempt at organizing my basement.  But maybe now I know I'm a true preservationist when the work is never fully done, maybe the nature of doing for yourself is a drug of sorts that I just can't kick.

seckel pears

Last week, a neighbor gave me some gorgeous seckel pears from a tree discovered in her parents yard.  I said I'd take some just for eating, but they were so good and they had so many that I ended up getting a few pounds to preserve.  Seckels seem to ripen faster than less petite pear varieties, and I set them up on a sheet pan for a few days to monitor their process.  I decided to try pickling some using Marisa's method over on Serious Eats, a pretty quick endeavor since the pears keep their stems and skins.  I used some raw sugar because I was out of granulated, but then made a series of errands to pick some up along with another flat of pint jars and some fresh pink peppercorns, star anise, and vanilla beans from the Spice House to do up a batch of Mrs. Wheelbarrow's spiced syrup version in the New York Times.

canned seckels
Marisa's pickled pears on the left, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's syrupy ones on the right.

The pears in syrup took awhile, especially with interruptions from the baby who would not succumb to sleeping.  More lessons in patience from the peeling of diminutive pears, trying to daintily finagle a 1/4 teaspoon to hollow out their seeded bellies - but worth it when I tasted the spiced syrup - which actually tastes exactly like a visit to the Spice House.  I didn't even mind that my 24 seckel pears only filled 3 pint jars and I had 3 pints of syrup that I canned up assuming that my pal Alanna would have a good idea for me on how to properly enjoy drinking it.

Prior to pear preservation, I made myself contend with the last 4 quinces that I was still debating what to do with.  This was the first year I've tasted quince, and I am completely hooked.  For some reason, I could hardly bring myself to do anything with the few of them I had, I so much enjoyed looking at them and smelling them, and really just living with them on my hutch counter for a few weeks...

(On the left there is a pawpaw!  The first one I've ever tasted... more here.)

Instead of deciding on any proper preserving of them, I ended up doing two batches of them the same way:  roasting them in a 320 degree oven for a couple of hours until the skin blistered, cooling them to the touch, then peeling, coring them, and carefully slicing them into fat pieces.  I made two piles on my counter, one of the sliced pieces that maintained their shape, and another of those that were too mushy to look attractive.  Then I made a syrup of equal parts sugar and water (600 g. of each, which was plenty).  The nice slices simmered away in the syrup for 30 or 40 minutes until they turned a more uniform color (the roasting left them unevenly colored) and were infused with sugar syrup.  The mushy pieces I put into a smaller sauce pan and simmered with ladles of the ample sugar syrup.  I mashed casually every so often with a potato masher, and added syrup as it was needed, all the while sneaking spoonfuls of hot quince for myself which felt as autumnal and comforting as adding another down blanked to the bed.  (I found the idea here.)

quince preserves.
quince preserves.

While I didn't bother canning this proper, I'd imagine 10 minutes in a hot water bath would do the trick.  So far, I'm having some really good morning snacks of toast, a pretty amazing grilled cheese with havarti and quince slices, and last week I made David Leibovitz's whole wheat croissants - which I'm pretty sure these quince preserves were born to marry.  I was also left with a bottle of quince syrup when I strained out my slices.  I'm not sure what to enjoy it with first... maybe rice pudding or some vanilla bean ice cream?  The quince was so delicious that I couldn't bring myself to add any aromatics at all to the simmering pots; these are all made just simply of quince, sugar, and water.  Similarly, I think I could almost just enjoy this by the shot glassful.

quince syrup

Monitoring the simmering quince left me plenty of time to think about all of the free fruits and berries I found close to home this year, not to mention the beginning of a relationship with a wonderful, old-fashioned orchard (Klee's Out on a Limb).  There were sour cherries from a friend of a friend, and more from neighbors who dropped them off when the baby was just weeks old.  Pints of mulberries from trees walking distance from my house, and the happy discovery late in the season of a white mulberry tree that I'll keep my eye on for next year.  Tart crabapples found on a walk just a week or so ago that made their way into applesauce and the more than one neighbor who offered me pears.  When farm markets were more difficult for me to visit at the peak of the season this year, there were also neighbors with ample vegetables to share.  (An amazing end-of-season green tomato sauce courtesy of plentiful green tomatoes from across the street.  Click here and read the comments to find a simple but delicious recipe.)  All in all, so many delicious things gracing my shelves to be thankful for as we head into the most thankful part of the year!

Improvising: Pear Almond Galette

I have a newer friend who doesn't really know how to cook, or bake.  She tries, and when she tells me about her trials I can't help but note to myself that cooking and baking are definitely arts - and the arts come easily to some and not so much so to others.  Not that you can't become a better cook or baker by simply working at it:  this is the point where I think personally I have arrived.  After you do something enough times, you stop worrying if you are doing it right, and you just do.

pear almond galette

When considering that I wanted to have a nice dinner for my family yesterday evening, I didn't really know where to begin.  I didn't even know what I had a taste for.  I had soaked and cooked a half pound of pinto beans and had them ready in the fridge for several days, just waiting for a application, and that seemed like a good place to begin.

I'm not always one to rely on printed recipes anymore, but I do frequently use them as inspiration - and I even will admit that I truly love the Epicurious iPhone app for just this reason.   (Though this isn't really a technology-related post, I'll even go further to say that I would probably be a perfect candidate for the iPad or other tablet device solely for kitchen use.  I do not have one to date.)  Epicurious has made their entire library of recipes available, decades of Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazine pages right there for me to filter.  I typed in "pinto beans" and found what turned out to be the most delicious version of pot beans I've made in a while - Dominican Beans.  It wasn't long until I ran an errand to pick up some fish for tacos and just like that, dinner was served.

Because every nicer dinner at home should also have a dessert, I also searched the app for a suitable starting point that could make use of the bowl of ripe pears I had on the table and the leftover empanada dough I had in the fridge.  I was just a few taps away from one of the best fruit desserts I've made in some time.

pear galette

pear galette

Like my kitchen-challenged friend, there was a time when I would have been uncertain where to start in altering a printed recipe to use what I had on hand.  I believe that the world of food blogs has opened a brave new world of opportunity for home cooks; we now have the empowerment to be creative and alter for alteration's sake - improvising to suit ourselves and to share not only with friends and family, but a growing "audience" of new acquaintances who can hopefully also learn and alter along with us. 

This improvised pear almond galette actually started long ago.  Back before I had ever made a single tart, I had picked up a tart pan at a discount store.  It is an odd size, 7 inches across the bottom and 8 when measured across the top.  Now I thought most tart tins had straight sides, but that could be why I found the pan in the first place, neglected in part because of a non-conformist nature.  My Daring Baker Challenge emplanada dough last week left a lot of scraps to be re-rolled... and I did re-roll it and then store it in a plastic bag on a plate so it would remain round and flat.  Days passed.  Pears ripened.  Lemons were gone and oranges and limes were all that remained in the crisper drawer.  And finally my galette was formed with the help of all of these happenstance things. 

My Husband loved it, which is also definitely something to record!

Galettes are technically free-form pies, some of which are nearly covered completely in flaky crust.  I used my tart tin to keep everything initially contained, and then removed the form halfway through the baking time so that it would brown uniformly.  The original recipe link has a pastry crust recipe that include a little extra dose of almond extract, if you use your favorite pastry, do as I did and increase the almond extract in the cream layer.

Improvised Pear Almond Galette (adapted from Self)
  • pastry crust, to fill a 7-8 inch tart tin
  • 2 pears, 3 if you have a larger pan
  • zest of half an orange
  • cinnamon sugar to liberally dust the top
  • a few cold pea-sized bits of salted butter
For the "cream" layer:
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 T. powdered sugar
  • 3 T. ground almonds (I ground them in my coffee grinder)
  • 2 t. melted butter
  • heaping 1/2 t. almond extract
  • pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400.  Line the tart tin with pastry crust that is rolled to about 1/8 inch thick.

Make the cream layer by whipping the egg white with the powdered sugar until good and frothy (and slightly thickened).  Add the ground almonds, melted butter, almond extract and salt and continue to beat until well combined.  Place in the fridge when you slice the pears.  (I did use a hand mixer for this.)

Peel, core, and slice the pears into 16ths (cut each quarter pear into 4 slices).  Place carefully in a large bowl, and grate the orange zest over.  Mix carefully with your hands so the slices remain whole.  

Take the cream out of the fridge and pour it into the center of the pastry.  (I shook a layer of cinnamon-sugar over the pastry crust first, since my crust was not sweetened at all.)  Beginning in the center, arrange the pears in a concentric way.  Two pears fit my pan exactly, with two slices leftover for me to eat.  Shake cinnamon-sugar heavily over the top, and carefully fold the edges of the dough down gently over the edges of the pears.  

Place the tart pan on a sheet pan and bake for about 20 minutes - until the center is somewhat set and the pastry edges have some color.  Remove the sheet pan from the oven, and carefully remove the tart pan side from the galette.  (I had both hands in  oven mitts, and balanced the bottom of the tart pan on one hand when removing.)  Return the panless galette to the oven, and bake until the center isn't wobbly at all, and everything is nice and brown, about 10-15 minutes longer.  (Your times may differ with your choice of pastry crust.  Just keep an eye on it.)

Turn off the oven, but turn on the broiler to high.  Dot the top of the galette with a few bits of butter and another shake of cinnamon-sugar for good measure.  Place under the broiler for a minute or two until the top is bubbly and deeply caramel colored.  Cool the galette on a wire rack completely before slicing.


I stored the leftovers in the refrigerator due to the eggy bottom layer, and it was as good cold the next day as it was the day of at room temperature.  The pears keep their firm "pear-ness", and orange and almond are always happy company.  Even though I may have liked my crust with a bit of sweetness, I really liked the crunchy, plain pastry flavor of the one I used - and I had the bonus pleasure of using up something already on hand.

pear almond galette

It is possible that all recipes are merely suggestions.  When I read through Michael Ruhlman's Twenty earlier this Summer, I recall him stressing heavily that to cook well, first think.  Whether using a recipe or an idea of a recipe, thinking through your process before beginning is a probably the best way to start.  Surprise and stress is greatly reduce when your brain is the first thing you consult in the kitchen... and no matter how experienced you are in those arts, it is always a good reminder.

I used to think that anyone can cook.  I still do actually think this, but I've also come to realize that it is just as important to recognize that there are people who just love to eat and who simply really appreciate eating great food.  I am never happier than when I find new friends of this nature, those with whom the pleasures of sitting around nibbling on somethings are the greatest joys.  Being at home in the kitchen or not is no longer the issue, but the acknowledgment of good taste is.

Pear Ginger Ginger Jam.

This first week of school seems more productive and much different that I had expected.  I wandered around the house feeling lost and a little empty for a day or two, but then seemed easily able to buckle down to the important work of deep cleaning and mastering the art of high-hydration whole wheat sourdough.  I always forget just how deafening the quiet is when the kid isn't around.

Last week I had picked up a 3lb. bag of organic pears at the regular old store, beguiled by their $3.99 price tag to be sure, but also craving a gingery jam.  My across-the-street neighbor had made Marisa's pear jam not long ago and gave me a tiny sample.  I really liked it.  It had a nice consistency, and she had bumped up the vanilla bean even more - making it truly special.  The day before yesterday, my pears had miraculously softened (and I had wondered if they would, little green rocks that they were for nearly a week in a bowl on the counter).  Their pear-ness overwhelmed me.  I fooled even myself into thinking I had got them from a tree somewhere.

Pear Ginger Ginger Jam

Pears and I have a long relationship.  Growing up, my Mom canned whole peaches and pears every year in light syrup, and if I ever got to choose between the two, I'd always pick the pear.  I love the grit in the skin of a pear and that settles happily into it's flesh.  I love that it doesn't seem as sweet as a peach and keeps some toothsomeness even after canning.  I used to love, and still do love cutting a home-canned pear with a knife into thin slivers before eating.  And I love drinking the sweetened pear juice, cold from the fridge, that is left in the jar after all of the pears have been devoured.

When thinking about a pear jam, I knew I definitely wanted to keep the pear skins.  Not only does is make less work of things, it keeps some additional fiber.  Most of a pear's fiber and considerable amounts of Vitamin C are located in the skin - but more importantly, all the texture that makes a pear a pear is found there as well.

relaxing pear ginger jam.

crystalized ginger

I decided to go box-pectin free, and as I have come to do with most jams of this sort, I let the fruit macerate with the sugar for about 16 hours and I used raw sugar, which by the end of the relaxation had completely liquified.  Some of the pear edges turned brown, but I wasn't worried about a little oxidization since I knew the whole pot was going to cook down.  I let everything stand overnight together except the crystallized ginger, which I added just before the cooking down, and the vanilla, which I added just before packing into jars.  As with all jam, let your taste dominate the end result, and cook down until you are satisfied of the set.

Pear Ginger Ginger Jam (inspired by Marisa McClellan and Linda Ziedrich)
my yield was 6 half pints plus some run-over
  • 3 lbs. pears, ripe and giving to pressure, cored and chopped (skin on)
  • 2 oz. fresh ginger, grated (to taste, about 3-4 inches off a "hand")
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 5 c. sugar (I used raw sugar by weight - the weight of granulated - 958 g. or 33.8 oz.)
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 3 oz. crystallized ginger, cut into small cubes
  • 1 T. vanilla extract (I used the last of some vanilla bean paste I scraped from the jar and enough extract to equal 1 T.)
Combine the pears, fresh grated ginger, lemon juice and zest, sugar and cinnamon stick in a large, heavy preserving pot.  Let sit, covered, for 8-16 hours, stirring as you think of it.

When ready to make the jam, ready jars, lids and water bath.  Add the crystallized ginger and bring the pot up to a boil.  Boil the jam down until the consistency is as you like (and the jam falls nicely from the spoon, or mounds in a chilled dish).

Remove the jam from the heat and add the vanilla.  Ladle the jam into hot jars (remove the cinnamon stick - I like to keep them in the run-over jam I have), put on the lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Pear Ginger Ginger Jam

I refrained from adding more cinnamon than what was gleaned from a single stick of rough cinnamon stick during the resting and boiling.  So often, cinnamon dominates North American bakery and jam efforts.  I love cinnamon and feel it does have a place, but prefer it in the background of this gingery jam.  The jam was full of ginger flavor, but not spicy-hot from it which was my goal.  The lemon kept things in line from turning too sweet, and vanilla is always a good idea in just about anything I think.

Yesterday afternoon, another friend whose child is now is school all day came over and we tried it on simple, eggy, sourdough popovers.  I made a pot of tea, even though it grew warmer out than I had anticipated, and we sat for 45 minutes chatting the way I'd imagine women did 60 years ago. I appreciated every second of a spontaneous visit, while simultaneously keeping an eye on the clock to see when my son would be done with his school day.

sourdough popovers
These sourdough popovers were a King Arthur Flour recipe.  Super simple, and really excellent!

I am surprised again at how fast time flies.  And at how much I can accomplish in a day.  Laundry is once again caught up, the weather cooperates for line-drying in record time, and I found and eradicated dust I didn't know existed.  While those time-honored housekeeping things never truly end, I feel renewed in my purpose - strengthened by cooler temperatures and the need to bake, and the comfort of those who appreciate the bakery.  We're off to a good start this September!