Although the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was made for the holidays, I find the lyrics playing in my head as I stroll down the aisles of the farmers market these days. Tomatoes of all colors, crisp cucumbers, zucchini of every size, bags full of sweet corn piled high, winter squash, pears and apples just starting to arrive. It’s the true essence of a beautiful summer meets fall collision.
I also enjoy listening to the chatter on Twitter and in the office, people bouncing ideas off one other for what to do with this or that from their over abundant gardens. Fortunately, one of these conversations worked out quite nicely for me, as I was gifted 4 pounds of these gorgeous little Seckel pears from a co-worker of Brian’s whose tree is plumb full this year. We ate several of them straight from the bag and sliced onto socca with blue cheese, honey and walnuts.
Seckel pears are the sweetest and the smallest of the pear family and look like a blushing bosc, which you’ll commonly find in grocery stores. They have a delicious spice flavor to them and a fresh crispness even when ripe. Those qualities make them perfect for simmering and preserving into this Caramel Cardamom Pear Jam. Swoon……
This recipe is a slight adaptation from the master preserving wizard herself, Marisa of Food in Jars, who made this brown sugar based pear jam. With the addition of flaky sea salt and double the simmering time, this version resembles caramel decadence in jam form. The brown sugar boils down into a sticky, sweet mess, and the addition of cardamom is what autumn comfort is all about.
Cardamom is one of my favorite warming spices, such a lovely match to the slight spice of the seckel pears. I ground the seeds of the green pods with a mortar and pestle, it’s scent so unique – a hint of eucalyptus and citrus and cloves. Used this way the spice is quite potent, which is why you’ll see two measurements – one for if you grind it yourself, the other if you buy it pre-ground, where exposure to air tames it down a bit.
Getting this jam to set couldn’t be easier. It naturally happens as the fruit simmers for an hour and the juice of a lemon at the end gives it the acidity it needs for canning safety, no artificial pectin needed. I peeled half of the pears, but left the others with the skin on because I like a little bit of texture. (If you like something completely smooth, this Vanilla Chai Pear Butter is delicious too.) The end result is lush, fudgy preserves that are just sweet enough with the addition of salt for that homemade caramel taste.
It’s ideal match is toast, but let me tell you, it’s amazing on ice cream or stirred into steel cut oats. Or if you’re like me, just plain licked from the spoon as you’re cooking it. Enjoy this jam and the beginning of September my friends. xo
Caramel Cardamom Pear Jam
Makes 3 half-pint jars
barely adapted from Food in Jar’s recipe
3 ¼ pounds of pears, half of them peeled (I used Seckel, but I think any variety would work)
1 1/4 cups lightly packed brown sugar (not firmly packed)
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of one large lemon
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom or 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom if you grind it yourself in a mortar and pestle or spice mill (it’s more intense this way so less is needed)
1. Sterilize jars in boiling water canner, lids too if you are using those made prior to 2013. See new rules about canning regulations regarding lids here.
2. Coarsely chop the pears, then combine them with the sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer, stirring frequently and lightly mash with a potato masher the pears soften, until the mixture thickens and is syrupy. This will take about 45 minutes, and you will see larger bubbles forming in the simmer. Stir in the salt, lemon juice and cardamom, then simmer for 2 more minutes.
3. Ladle the hot preserves into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims. Center the lids on the jars. Apply bands until the fit is just tight.
4. Process the jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off the heat and let the jars sit for 5 minutes then remove the jars and let cool in a draft-free spot overnight. Check the lids for seal after 24 hours – they should not flex up and down when the center is pressed. Store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to mess with the canning, you can skip the whole jar sterilizing and boiling water bath process and just store in clean, air-tight jars in the refrigerator for up to a month.