I might love autumn in the Sierra even more than I love spring, summer and winter. We hike in brisk weather surrounded by an extravagant color display, caressed by gentle sunlight. In the mornings and evenings, we warm ourselves in front of the first woodstove fires since last May. We gather with neighbors to debate which new snow blower we’ll buy to replace last year’s overworked machine. And we harvest fragrant, organic pears at Apple Hill Ranch.
It was the height of the fall harvest, and the farm had a surplus of fruit that needed to be used right away. Remembering the silky vanilla-pear butter I’d created for the very first article I wrote for Bon Appetit magazine, I was eager to rekindle my love of preserving seasonal fruit so we could prolong our enjoyment of Apple Hill’s spectacular produce.
The sweet scent of simmering fruit mixed with cardamom and vanilla was as hard to ignore as the view out our windows of Aspens in their full colorful dress. The days felt like a celebration of life in the mountains, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I couldn’t resist sampling the delicately spiced condiment over and over, and each taste triggered another idea for how to enjoy it, ideas I’d just have to test—slathered on toast, spooned over Greek yogurt, atop French toast, on a cheese board to accompany soft goat cheese or rich, aged Manchego. I’d been looking forward to tucking a few jars of the preserve in the cupboard to enjoy all winter, but there’s a good chance the pear butter will get gobbled up long before the really cold weather sets in. I’ll just have to make another batch for that.
Vanilla-Cardamom Pear Butter
- 4 pounds ripe pears, especially Bartlett, unpeeled, not cored
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup water
- 1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 lemon slice
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 1 vanilla bean, split crosswise and lengthwise
- 1¼ teaspoons ground cardamom
- ⅛ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- Cut the unpeeled pears into 1-inch pieces without removing the cores. (The core and peel are loaded with pectin, which will help set up the preserves, and rich in flavor.) Place in a heavy, large saucepan. Add the wine, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the pears are soft, pushing down into the liquid occasionally, 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 300℉. Set a food mill over a large bowl. Pour or spoon the pear mixture into the mill in batches and force through the food mill to remove peels and cores.
- Transfer the pear puree to a food processor, in batches if necessary. Puree until silky smooth.
- Pour the pear puree into a 13x9" glass baking dish. Add the white sugar, brown sugar, lemon slice, cinnamon stick if using, vanilla bean, cardamom and salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Roast until the spread thickens, stirring every 30 minutes or so, for about 2 hours. To test for doneness, spoon a small amount onto a plate. It should set up almost immediately with no spreading or wateriness. Continue cooking if it's not ready.
- Meanwhile, wash 5 8-ounce canning jars or 3 12-ounce jars and 1-8-ounce jar, and jar lidsIf you plan on preserving for long keeping, bring a canning pot two-thirds full of water to a boil. Submerge the jars in the hot water, cover and boil for 10 minutes. Wash the lids, place in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; turn off the heat but keep warm. When ready to can, bring a kettle of water to a boil and set aside. Remove the jars from the boiling water and invert onto paper towels to drain. Let the lids dry on another paper towel.
- One at a time, spoon the pear butter into hot jars, leaving ¼" space on the top. Tap gently on the work surface. Wipe the top edge clean with a damp paper towel. Place a dry lid atop the jar. Screw a band on the jar just until secure, but not tightly. Repeat with the remaining pear butter and jars. Jars can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for about 2 months.
- For longer keeping, submerge the jars in the canning pot. Add enough boiling water to cover by at least 1". Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Transfer the jars to a rack and cool. To test the seal, press on the center of the lid, it should be taut and slightly indented. If not, refrigerate for up to 2 months. If the seal is tight, store the jar in a cool, dark area for up to 1 year.