Our pear tree usually produces small and wonky fruit that go from rock hard to mushy without stopping at ripe on the way. This year, we have been surprised by a bumper crop of golden, pear-shaped pears and one of the best uses I have found for them has been this jam.The recipe is from Jam On by Laena McCarthy, who runs Anarchy in a Jar, a company selling preserves in Brooklyn. I like this book a lot. I wish I was younger and hipper and could hang out with McCarthy and her neighbours, brewing craft ales, growing vegetables on rooftops, and making artisanal everything. They seem to be having such a good time.
McCarthy is known for her interesting flavour combinations, and includes many in this book: nectarine with ginger and kaffir lime; raspberry and rosewater; peach and lemon verbena, watermelon and lemon grass. Every recipe is followed by a list of alternative flavour combinations.
Chipotle is a smoked chilli, popular in Mexican cooking. I found ground chipotle at Spice Mountain, Borough Market. I take a short cut through the market on my way to and from work, but for those with a less convenient commute, they also sell spices online: http://www.spicemountain.co.uk
McCarthy is very keen on eating jam with cheese. This seems to be a rather un-British thing to do (unless you actually call the jam a cheese e.g. damson cheese) and friends of mine who have been given jars of this jam have reported back they find it too spicy for their breakfast toast. Some jams just aren’t for breakfast. According to McCarthy, this jam goes particularly well with soft cheeses and grilled fontina. I like it with any blue cheese, especially on an oatcake. It’s also good with sausages.
McCarthy uses low-methoxyl pectin in most of her recipes because she likes to use less sugar and cook the jam for a short period of time. The most popular brand of low- methoxyl pectin is called Pomona’s Universal and it’s very hard to find in this country. I bought mine online from Cream Supplies: http://www.creamsupplies.co.uk. The pectin is made from citrus fruit and must be combined with calcium phosphate to make it work. The remarkable thing about this stuff is that it doesn’t need sugar to reach setting point, so you can use less sugar or alternative sweeteners such as agave syrup or honey.
My problem with Pomona’s Universal Pectin is that I find the texture of some jams a bit gloopy. Some of McCarthy’s recipes aren’t particularly low in sugar, including this one, and could be made with jam sugar or using a pectin stock, and I think the texture would be better. However, Pomona’s really comes into its own with sweet fruit that can be spoilt by too much sugar; here gloopy is preferable to sickly sweet (whatever Tessa Munt says). This book arrived too late for me to try McCarthy’s strawberry jam – a tricky jam to make without tasting cloying – but I’m looking forward to trying it next year.
This jam, due to the lower amount of sugar, should be processed in a water bath, see http://www.pickyourown.org for a useful step by step guide. If, like me, you have a feeble extractor fan, this can result in a very steamy house at this time of year. But this is one of the easiest and quickest jams I have ever made and so it’s worth putting up with a bit of condensation.
In addition to the serving suggestions above, I love this straight from the jar – you get the grainy sweetness of the pear followed by a hit of smoky chilli. Delicious.
- 2lbs medium pears
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1lb sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground chipotle
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 teaspoons calcium water (the calcium power comes with the pectin)
- 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
Mix the sugar and pectin together in a bowl (a fork works well for this) and put to one side Peel, core and dice the pears and put into a large pan with the water, lemon juice and calcium water.
Bring the pears to a boil, cover with a lid, and cook for 30 minutes. Add the spices. Mash the fruit a bit with a potato masher and return to the boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
Add the pectin and sugar mix, slowly and carefully, stirring all the time. Stir vigourously for a couple of minutes to dissolve the pectin.
Return the fruit to a boil and then remove from the heat. Skim off any scum and pot into sterilized jars. Then process the jars in a boiling water bath for 6 minutes.