Pear and Chipotle Jam

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.P1020411The 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:

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: 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  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.

The recipe

  • 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.


Raspberry Vinegar

This week, I made some raspberry vinegar with the last of the allotment raspberries. This has become an essential condiment in our house, as important to my youngest as tomato ketchup. He likes it dribbled over vanilla ice cream, stirred into Greek yoghurt, or, best of all, straight from the bottle. He is allowed a Mary Poppins’ spoonful every so often – traditionally raspberry vinegar was used as a remedy for coughs and colds and, more recently, it has been suggested that the xylitol in raspberries may prevent ear infections. It’s also a useful restorative if you’ve had a rubbish day at school and a fight with your brother.


Raspberry vinegar can be mixed with olive oil and used on salads – try with goats cheese for a 1980s vibe. It can be diluted with soda or mineral water to make a refreshing summer drink. Or stir a spoonful or two into strawberries that don’t taste quite as good as they look – the vinegar will improve their flavour.

This recipe is from Preserves by Pam Corbin, one of the River Cottage Handbooks. I love this book for many reasons. It’s perfect for commuting and I often read it on the way to work – it fits into a handbag and is compact enough to read on a crowded train, standing up. If only more commuters read Corbin, rather than the Metro or Daily Mail, I’m sure they’d look less stressed.

For such a small book, Preserves contains a huge range of recipes from traditional jams and marmalades to nasturtium ‘capers’ and an alcoholic cordial made from beech leaves.  It’s a useful book for foragers as it contains recipes for sloes, rosehips, elderberries, haws and crab apples.

I often use Preserves as a reference book and check other recipes against Corbin’s. She writes clearly and explains processes so well that it’s a bit like having a wise aunt on hand  to ask for advice. And she does look a bit like my Auntie Jean.

The RecipeP1020383

  • 1kg raspberries
  • 600ml white wine vinegar
  • sugar

Put the raspberries in a bowl and crush lightly with a wooden spoon. Add the vinegar. Cover and leave for 4-5 days, stirring occasionally.

Pour the fruit and vinegar into a scalded jelly bag or a piece of muslin suspended over a bowl and leave to drain overnight.

Next day, measure the liquid and pour into a saucepan. For every 600ml, add 450g sugar and gently bring the fruit vinegar to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for 8-10 minutes and skim off any scum. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Bottle and seal when cold. Store in a cool dark place for a few weeks before opening and use within 12 months.

Corbin suggests replacing the raspberries with strawberries, blackcurrants or blackberries and I think this recipe would work well with tayberries, if you ever have a kilo to spare.


Plum and Cardamom Jam

This recipe is from Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. I bought this a few months ago and wasn’t keen at first but, oh my, this book is a grower. At first, I was put off by the dull cover, the gingham pages, and the gift labels at the back of the book – including one that reads ‘cooked up just for you’ which I can never use. I’m British. When I give people jam I generally say ‘I’ve made lots of this, it’s quite good,  please take a jar… no, that’s fine if you don’t have room because your neighbour makes jam and your children prefer peanut butter anyway…of course I’m not offended’. So, no way am I going to open myself up to rejection by sticking a ‘cooked up just for you’ label on each jar.

I had decided, before I started reading, that this book would be homey and southern USA in its tastes (Krissoff lives in Georgia). I was expecting a lot of peach jam.

There are some recipes for peach jam but so much more besides. Krissoff describes her book as being written for those who feel nostalgic for watermelon-rind pickles but also like to eat sushi pickles and kimchi – all sound exotic to me. Canning for a New Generation  is a joy to read and makes it into my top three favourite preserving books. Krissoff writes about flavours so well and is funny and self-deprecating – I want her to be my friend by the end of the book (if only Georgia was nearer). She describes water canning in such a  straightforward way that I credit her for overcoming my fear of the process.

There are a number of different views when it comes to preserving, divided along pectin, sugar, and processing lines. Krissoff, like all Americans, is big on water-bath canning – this involves processing the filled jam jars in a pan of boiling water for a certain amount of time, depending on the acidity of the preserve. The heat kills off micro-organisms and creates a vacuum in the jar – this prevents the food from spoiling. Everyone refers to the Ball Blue Book a lot – a classic American text on preserving and one of the few preserving books I don’t own.

Most British books ignore the water-bath process because it isn’t necessary for many preserves – the sugar and vinegar in traditional jams and chutneys will prevent the food from spoiling. This is fine if you are happy to make jam with at least 60% sugar, but I’m not. I prefer jam that tastes less sweet and more, well, fruity. So that’s why I started buying American preserving books – like Canning for a New Generation, they often contain recipes with less sugar.

Pectin is another issue that divides jam makers and Krissoff has firm views. She rarely adds commercial pectin because she prefers the less rubbery consistency of preserves set without added pectin. She also believes that commercial pectin can spoil the flavour by gelling excess water and reducing the intensity of the fruit flavour. The recipe below works by straining the fruit during the cooking and reducing the juices until they are thick.

The jam

I have made this jam four times and it is lovely. Krissoff describes it as tart, aromatic, and one of her favourite jams of all time. It’s also the most beautiful colour. I made my first batch with Opal plums from a friend’s garden and later batches with black plums from Lewisham market (I asked where the plums were from and was told, helpfully, ‘the wholesalers’). I made one lot with added Bramley apples and this made a lovely compote – delicious stirred into thick yoghurt.

I haven’t explained the water bath process in any detail. If you are unfamiliar with the method, please research this before making the jam by looking it up on the internet (try or buy Krissoff’s book.

P1020332 You need:

  •  4 pounds ripe  black plums,
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ground  cardamom seeds.

Put the plums and sugar into a preserving pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, then continue to cook for five minutes.  Pour into a colander set over a large bowl and stir the plums gently to drain off the juice. Return the juice to the pan and bring to a boil over a high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is thick and reduced – about 10 minutes.

Return the plums to the pan, along with the lime juice and cardamom, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until a dab of jam spooned onto a cold plate and put in the freezer for a minute becomes fairly firm – it will not jell – about 15 minutes.

Pot into sterilised jars (Krissoff recommends Kilner type jars with two part lids, I used heat resistant jars with screw top lids), leaving 1/4 inch head space, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove the jars and leave undisturbed on a folded towel for 12 hours. After one hour, check the lids have sealed by pushing down in the centre of each – if it can be pushed down, it’s not properly sealed and should be stored in the fridge.

This jam will keep for a year if processed properly. Once opened, it needs to be stored in the fridge and eaten within four weeks.