Every spring I say I’m going to fill my cupboards with homemade jams and preserves. The produce is full of flavour that I have missed through winter, yet somehow every summer just zooms by and come November, when I start thinking about Christmas gifts, there is little fresh produce left to work with. I’m left to be creative within the season, and currently that means pears.
I love chutneys. Last year I made a spicy apple chutney full of shallots and dried apricots which was wonderful with a seared pork chop. This year I have decided to try my hand at making jam. A jam, specifically, that I can finish off with a whole wheel of brie. MmMmm. When you begin searching for ‘pear jam’ one recipe that keeps showing up is foodinjars.com’s Pear Vanilla Jam. This recipe has been shared, reposted, and referred to SO MANY times that I figure it must be fantastic in it’s simplicity (as the only ingredients are pears, sugar, vanilla and pectin!)
There are many, many ways to make jam but it comes down to what consistency, or “set” you desire. Pectin is what causes jams to be the texture we all know and love and is naturally found in high amounts in the peels of fruits like apples, pears, cranberries, apricots and citrus. Since most fruit naturally contains small amounts of pectin, fruit and sugar, when cooked long enough, will result in jam. Pectin is often added as a setting agent to speed up the jam process and leave you with a fresher-tasting product.
However, a specific level of sugar (and acid) is required to allow the pectin molecules to bind to each other and form a gel network, thus creating a thick consistency. Some people dislike how MUCH sugar is required (spoiler: a lot) and opt to make a pectin free jam. This is much easier to achieve with fruits naturally high in pectin, but this style of jam will always have a runnier consistency. There are pros and cons of each side, and whether someone decides to use pectin is a personal choice.
Enough science, let’s get jammin’!
I started by preparing the pears. The recipe I’m using called for 8 cups with the skin on (remember the pectin is in the skin so this will help the jam-process!). I quartered, removed the core, and chopped them into even sized pieces:
Since a metal bowl would speed up the oxidation of the pears, I opted for glass and let them (briefly) sit in some lemon water to maintain their colour.
I then prepared the vanilla by splitting and scrapping out the seeds:
I then threw the pears, vanilla, and sugar into a pot and gave everything a stir before placing it on medium heat.
Within 15 minutes the sugar had melted and began to boil.
I let this continue to simmer until the pears easily mashed on the side of the pan, removed the vanilla beans, mashed the mixture to my preferred chunk-size, and added the liquid pectin.
The recipe then said to “crank the heat and boil for 5 minutes” Which I did without keeping a close eye on it. I returned to find a wonderful mistake had happened: caramelization. I quickly offed the heat, gave it a sputtering stir, and began to fill my clean jars:
I left 1cm of headspace, wiped the rims, tightened the lids, placed the jars in a large pot of water making sure they were covered by at least an inch of water, covered the pot and let it return to a rapid boil. Because I live at an altitude of less than 10,000 ft, I processed the jars for 10 minutes to sterilize.
It is important to note on the lids. For as long as canning has been around, people have left the lids in hot water prior to topping the jars. In 2014 Jarden Corporation (who makes Bernardin brand mason jars) changed their recommendation because they found no difference in seal or shelf life when using lids at room temperature. As long as they are new and washed, you’re good to go!
After removing the jars I could hear the lids pinging sealed.
I left the jars for 24 hours before checking the lids to find they were all concave and solid, meaning I had achieved a good seal. It was finally time to taste the finished product, with brie of course.
I opened the jar and immediately stuck my nose inside and was hit with a strong vanilla scent. The jam is a deep amber colour in the jar, but a beautiful golden hue when served. I love all the chunks of pears and specs of vanilla seeds throughout the jam. It tastes of pears, caramel, and vanilla although I find the vanilla to be overwhelmed by the caramel flavour. The pear pieces are soft with that quintessential pear texture of a slight grain. It is very sweet. I knew it would be sweet, I like sweet, but it is too sweet for morning toast and would be better suited in dessert applications, like over a waffle with ice cream.
I learned a lot from this experience. The jam did not set up as much as I expected; perhaps the pectin overcooked during the caramelization destroying its gelling ability. I also found the jam to be very sweet, so next time I will try a pectin free jam recipe that uses much less sugar. Finally, as much as I loved the caramel flavour it overpowered the vanilla and in future I would make either a caramelized pear jam or a pear vanilla jam. Not both.
Overall it is a successfully delicious jam and my seal held, so my family will be very excited to receive a jar for Christmas.
Here is the full recipe for Vanilla Pear Jam from foodinjar.com:
- 8 cups, 1240g, chopped Bartlett pears (or any smooth, thin-skinned pear. There’s no need to peel.” I used Anjou pears.
- 4 cups, 800g, sugar
- 2 vanilla bears, split and scraped
- 1 packet liquid pectin.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine chopped pears, sugar and vanilla beans (and all that bean-y goodness you scraped out). Cook over medium heat until the fruit can easily be smashed with the back of a wooden spoon. Use a potato masher or immersion blender to break the fruit down into a mostly-smooth sauce (remove the vanilla bean solids before blending).
- Add the pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Let boil for a full five minutes in order to active the pectin, so that the finished product will have a nice jammy consistency.
- Fill jars, wipe rims to remove any residual jam, apply lids (heat canning lids in a small pot over very low heat while you’re preparing the jam to ensure a good seal) and screw on the rims.
- Process the filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (start the timer when the pot has returned to a boil). When the time has elapsed, remove jars from pot and place the jars on a towel-lined countertop. Let them cool undisturbed for at least two hours. During this time, the lids should seal. Check to ensure the jars have sealed by pushing down on the center of the lid. If it feels solid and doesn’t move, it is sealed.