Monday, October 12, 2009

Pear Honey

First things first: pear honey has no honey in it. It is named for its color and consistency. I'm not going to give you measures, because every recipe varies, and the key is really just to cook the mix down until the consistency is right. You'll need:
  • Peeled and cored ripe pears, run through the food processor to a chunky slush. (I use a pull peeler for pears, and it's very easy. I struggled with a straight handled peeler for years, and found a nice sharp pull peeler to be great for many things: watermelon rind, squashes, anything firm.)
  • Sugar
  • Pineapple juice, or fresh pineapple, crushed, or even frozen concentrated pineapple juice.
  • Lemon
Put the pears in a heavy bottomed pan with an enormous amount of sugar, over medium heat. Most recipes call for pretty much equal parts pears to sugar, but if you want to put in less sugar, I don't blame you. Squeeze lemon into the mix, and add some zest, too, if you like. While we're talking tools, a citrus reamer is by far the most straightforward way to get the most juice out of your citrus. And who doesn't love good old wooden hand tools? Add just enough pineapple to give the mix additional liquid and tang, probably in a 1/6 ration to the pear and sugar amounts. When the mixture starts to bubble, turn it down to a simmer and stir often. The more you've made, the longer it will take to thicken.While we're waiting for our mixture to thicken, let's talk about the blatant use of very non-local ingredients. Here's my take on this: pretty much everyone uses some stuff that's traveled far and wide. I say, pick your battles. Eat as much local food as you can, eat less and less meat, drive less, turn down the heat in your house, collect rainwater, don't be a super consumer. And then any guilt you might feel over using lemons doesn't feel like much. Me, I couldn't really operate without lemons and limes. Should I probably live in a warmer climate, where lemons and pomegranates and figs and nopal and avocados grow? Yes. But I don't. And pineapples are from even further away! Here's a secret: I often buy pineapple juice concentrate to use in my recipes. It tastes pretty great used to sweeten curries. Hopefully those little cans take less fuel to ship from around the world. I'm ok with these guilty pleasures, because they're helping me use up a tree full of ripe pears from right here in the Hudson Valley. (If pressed, I'm sure a version of this recipe would work just fine with no traces of pineapple.)
Wow, this is turning into a confessional. Sorry, but here's another: I had no interest in canning. When you're super into the aliveness of fermentation, canning seems like a bit of a bummer, since everything has to be heated to death. But pear honey (remember to stir, now!) is changing my attitude. After all, freezer space is tight, and canning has turned out to be so extremely easy. There is an appeal to having all those pretty jars lined up in the root cellar. Proper processing calls for boiling the jars in water for 10 minutes, then cooling upside down. Is your pear honey thick yet? If yes, I found that pouring it into the jars when still boiling hot, sealing them tight, and inverting them, is plenty to create a strong vacuum seal. If you're worried, or if the lids don't get super stiff, put them in the bath.

These jars will last for at least a year, and the pear honey can be used as a straight sweetener, instead of marmalade, or as an ingredient. The pear flavor is delicious. And if you're like me, your canning craze will have begun.

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