Not a native of the area, I have really come to enjoy living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There is no shortage of farmers’ markets in the area. The one closest to me — Root’s (pronounced “ruts” by those in the know) — is open every Tuesday all year long. I am so thankful for the ability to obtain fresh fruits and veggies year-round, although of course we do better during harvest time than during the winter. It was cold here on Tuesday, with a biting wind, so most of my go-to vendors were not out and about. I did score some great veggies though — Such as organic spinach for only $1.50/bag…and it was not a skimpy bag. (I envision a nice spinach salad for lunch tomorrow…) Or the lemons I picked up 10 for $1. They are certainly not that cheap in the regular grocery store! I would’ve brought home more if we’d had more hands, lol!!! However, it was only my 8 year old son and myself, and our hands were already quite full! And I actually remembered to bring along my shopping bag, too — trouble is, we filled it way fast. But thankfully with healthy, fresh foods!
So. I was recently browsing other food blogs — which is probably how I spend any spare time I have, if I’m not already reading a cookbook or looking at a cooking magazine — and I stumbled upon a recipe for Pear Vanilla Jam. I had to email it to myself while my laptop was down so it didn’t get lost in my “recipes” folder. Now it’s all printed out and safe in my canning recipe binder. You can find the original recipe at www.foodinjars.com/2011/02/pear-vanilla-jam/ Let me just say that I LOVE that blog. Quick note too: my stove top does not allow for the traditional size water bath canner if I’m going to have room to fit all the other stuff — like the actual pot with the recipe, the jar lids simmering, etc. Thus I am a HUGE fan of small batch preserving, which to me is any batch that makes about 8 jars (any size) or less, because then I’m not slaving over the stove the whole day. Unless, of course, I want to! This batch made 7 4-oz jars (or half-pints), plus a tad extra, which I gratefully sampled!
I decided I had to try the recipe, so I added pears to my ever-growing shopping list. I use my iPhone “Reminders” app and have different lists for different things. I happen to have a grocery list for each market or store I frequent.
Since it was so bitter cold, the indoor part of the market was so crowded that I almost walked right past the display of pears — but I was fortunate enough to have to stop to help my 8 year old son adjust the bag of bananas ($1 for about 3 lbs) that he was helping to carry. They were Bartletts, on sale for $2.50 for a box of 5-6. I couldn’t remember how many I needed so I just bought two boxes. I used about 7 pears to make 8 cups of chopped pears. The extras certainly won’t go to waste in this house! We had two beautiful Bartlett dwarf trees in the yard until the autumn flood of 2010 — they never recovered. (It’s on my to-do list to replace them this year.)
At any rate, I proceeded to make the jam, with one little deviation from the original recipe. I couldn’t find my vanilla beans, and I certainly did not want to go buy any, so I dug out my Neilsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Paste, which I had purchased from Williams Sonoma for $11. That wa some time last year. I think it’s $12.95 online now. I will be buying some again very soon, as I use it a lot in place of whole beans or just vanilla extract. The rich flecks of bean in the paste appeal to me even more than using the traditional bean itself. You simply substitute one Tablespoon of paste for one whole bean. So I didn’t need to remove the beans before mashing the pears as stated in the recipe, and it all merged together quite beautifully for me.
I also have to note that while this was all cooking up — before I put it into jars — the kitchen smelled heavenly…a heady combination of floral pear with the soft scent of vanilla. I am looking forward to baking a loaf of fresh bread later and spreading some of this love on there for breakfast this weekend!!!
Here’s a pic of the jam that was just going into the fridge for immediate consumption, instead of the canner to savor later. You can see that I didn’t mash all the pears 100%, as I like my jams to have visible pieces of fruit. Plus I don’t have an immersion blender either, so I used the old reliable hand-held potato masher.
Don’t be intimidated — canning is easy peasy!!! I want to note that I was not raised in a household where we canned. I originally learned how to can red beets — the first thing I ever canned — from a friend. Everything else I learned from taking classes at my local cooperative extension (an AMAZING source!). Once I got the hang of doing jams and jellies, I graduated myself to trying marmalades, tomato sauces, salsas and pickled products, and then started to foray into more complex recipes. Next step: to learn pressure canning.
If I can figure out how to preserve foods and produce amazing results, anyone can. Seriously. Just be sure to follow directions to avoid potential issues with food poisoning. And never ever EVER chance using a product if the jar is suspect — ie, it wasn’t sealed or the food looks or smells bad. Start off with a Ball Blue Book or one put out/approved by the USDA and never substitute ingredients if you’re uncertain whether or not they’ll work. It’s usually okay to substitute small amounts of spices or flavorings for those called for in a recipe. Where you will get into trouble is if you add starchy foods or low acid foods to a high acid canning recipe, as they are canned by different processes to make sure the food is thoroughly cooked at a high enough temperature to avoid bacteria growth. If in doubt, contact your county extension agency and ask.
But really, canning is sooooo simple! There are tons of delish recipes out there! And the great thing is that you know what’s in your food! No artificial this or that. So get up and play in the kitchen!!!