Pear and Chocolate Jam

seven pears

Sometime last fall, I bought a copy of a British preserving book called Notes from the Jam Cupboard. I discovered its existence while skimming a list of recent cookbook imports and, justifying it as an important research material, promptly added it to my ever-growing canning and preserving library. I read through it as soon as it arrived and marked more than half a dozen recipes to try immediately (of course, immediately turned out to mean “sometime in the next six months”).

Notes From the Jam Cupboard

Of all the possible preserves and dishes I marked, there was one that stuck particularly fast in my memory. Pear and chocolate jam. As we all know, I have something of a weakness for pear jams (cardamom. vanilla. cinnamon. lavender.). I had to try a jam that has you melt nearly two bars of dark chocolate into a pot of pear jam that you’ve gently spiked with cinnamon. Truly, I couldn’t imagine how anything could sound more divine.

spread from book

I’ve spent more time than is rational thinking about this jam and have twice bought pears with the intention of making it. Finally, earlier this week, my stars aligned and I made a batch of this jam, exactly as written. It cooked up beautifully and made me realize that a jam made from peeled pears is slightly more refined and elegant than the ones I’ve often made (not that I’ll be peeling all my pears from here on out, but there are moments when it can be nice).

pouring chocolate

In her head note, Mary Tregellas says that this is a jam that “has a particular affinity with buttery things, such as brioche and croissants.” Having made a batch, I understand why she said this. This is an incredibly sweet jam. There are four parts sugar to five parts fruit, and then you add a mountain of dark chocolate.

This is not something you’ll probably want to smear on toast for breakfast each morning, but it would make an amazing glaze for a dense, barely-sweet chocolate cake or as a filling layer in an elegant tart (there’s even a tart recipe included in the book).

stirring chocolate

I’m certain that this jam will raise some safety flags for some of you out there, but according to the reading I’ve done, I believe it is safe for canning (I added a boiling water bath step that isn’t included in the book). Good dark chocolate (which is what I used) is made without the addition of milk solids, so there’s no dairy in this product. The amount of sugar in the recipe will help keep it safely preserved for some time.

There is some reason for caution on the pH front, though. Chocolate is quite low in acid. However, most pear varieties have enough acid for safe canning (though not asian pears) and the recipe includes the juice of two lemons. If using fresh lemons for acid balancing makes you uncomfortable, you can substitute bottled lemon juice (a medium lemon averages 3 tablespoons of lemon juice). When I made my batch, I added the juice of 2 1/2 lemons, which gave me a full half cup.

finished pear choc jam

All that said, this is a lovely jam. It tastes a great deal like a slice of pear dipped into chocolate fondue. It’s a treat I’m happy to welcome into my pantry and I’ll be looking for ways to best use it going forward.

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Preserves in Action: Pureed Preserved Lemons

preserved lemons

For the last several years, one of my mid-winter traditions has been to treat myself to a box of Meyer lemons from an orchard in California. It’s my favorite way to bright dark days and ward off the gloom of January on the east coast.

When the lemons arrive, I make marmalade, jelly, dehydrated citrus slices, curd, and salt preserved lemons. It’s a joy to spend those hours squirreling away all the different lemon preserves, knowing that it will be another year before I make them again.

Cook This Now

In a typical year, I have no problem using up the things I’ve made from my box of Meyer lemons. This time though, I just didn’t manage to work through 2012′s jar of salt preserved lemons. It got scooted to the very back corner of the fridge and there it stayed, for most of the last 12 months.

I did remember that it was tucked back there. What’s more, there have even been many moments when I knew that a little dose of preserved lemons would go nicely in a dish I was making. I just couldn’t deal with the game of reverse-Tetris that it would have required to put hands on those lemons.

preserved lemons in the blender

About a week ago, on the hunt for some January dinner inspiration, I pulled my copy of Melissa Clark’s book, Cook This Now, down off the shelf. While leafing through, I spotted an absolutely brilliant idea. She suggests plucking the seeds out of a preserved lemon and then running it through a blender, in order to make an easy-to-use pulp.

Instead of having a giant jar of inaccessible lemons, I could have a very accessible (smaller) jar of preserved lemon puree. This was an idea I could get behind.

12 ounces of preserved lemon puree

Once managed to unearth the jar of lemons from behind the maple syrup, I was in business. I pulled the seeds from half my stash and plopped them into the blender. It took less than a minute in the Vitamix to work them into a very sunny paste. Now, whenever I want to add that funky, tangy, salty, tart preserved lemon flavor to a dish, all I have to do is dip a clean spoon into a jar that now lives on the door of the fridge. Preserved lemons, redeemed!

topping with olive oil

Melissa Clark recommends that you cover the puree with a generous layer of olive oil, to keep it from spoiling. A very sensible idea.

salad with preserved lemon dressing

The best thing about blending the lemons is that once you’ve scraped what you can out of the blender pitcher, you’re already halfway to a great salad dressing. Because it’s inevitable that you won’t be able to get every last bit out of the blender. Instead of surrendering and cleaning it out in the sink, add a little water, honey, and freshly ground pepper. Put the pitcher back on the blender base, run the motor on low and drizzle in a little olive oil. As soon as it develops a thick consistency, you’re done.

The finished dressing is creamy and tart, but without the throat-catching acidity that a vinegar-based dressing can have. I made a not-so-seasonal salad of halved grape tomatoes and avocado, covered it with my blender dressing and heaped it on a pile of torn lettuce. It made for a really great weekday lunch.

If you have a stash of preserved lemons tucked away in your fridge, how are you using them?

 

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Hachiya Persimmon Oatcakes

hachiya persimmon

I’m having a bit of a fling with persimmons this winter. First, there was the chutney included in this pretty project. Next came that red leaf and fuyu persimmon salad (I ate it again today). Today, I took very ripe hachiya persimmons and made a batch of hearty, not-too-sweet oatcakes.

persimmon pulp

When I bought this pair of hachiya persimmons, my plan was to make a batch of cookies. I have a recipe from my grandma Bunny’s little file box that I’ve long intended to make (she died when I was 15 and cooking her dishes brings her back a little). But when I pulled the card out to see what I’d need, I realized that I wanted something just a little more virtuous than a cookie made with two sticks of butter and lots of white sugar.

making oat flour

And so, I took the recipe and started rewriting. I cut the butter in half (who needs two sticks when you’ve got all that luscious persimmon pulp to lend moisture?). I used a little coconut palm sugar to sweeten (if your pantry doesn’t run to such things, use sucanat or brown sugar). I added some toasted pecans for protein and crunch. And I used a combination of rolled oats and oat flour for backbone (make your own oat flour in your food processor or blender. Takes 90 seconds and keeps things simple).

coconut palm sugar

Unlike the salad I wrote about last week, this recipe uses the pointy-ended persimmons. This variety is incredibly astringent when firm, but when ripe, becomes super sweet and perfect for baking. I let mine soften on the counter for more than a week, until they felt soft, heavy and a little like a full-to-bursting water balloon. To use them, you simply cut off the stem end and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

persimmon oatcakes

The finished oatcake is tender and moist, but still manages to hold its shape nicely. I used a 1/4 cup disher to portion the dough into little mounds, but you can also grab a couple soup spoons and scoop the old-fashioned way. These guys are nice toasted for breakfast, tucked into packed lunches or gobbled in front of a computer with a cup of tea as a late afternoon snack.

A couple notes:

  • If you don’t have easy access to persimmons, you could also make these with a cup of mashed banana.
  • If you use gluten-free oats, these oatcakes become gluten-free. A nice feature these days.
  • If pecans are too pricey, use toasted walnuts. Or skip the nuts entirely. Sometimes I substitute toasted millet for nuts in baked goods, when I want some crunch but I know someone in my eating audience is allergic.
  • Because these oatcakes are quite moist, they should be tucked into an airtight container and kept in the fridge or freezer within a day or so of baking.

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Early January Links + Eat Real Food Calendar Winner

201/365

It’s taking me longer to get situated into the new year than it has in the past. Normally, I leap into January with both feet, excited for the clean slate. This time, I feel uncertain and a off-balance (it doesn’t help that I’m currently writing at a wobbly coffeeshop table). While I gather myself and clear out the mental fog, here are some good things that other people have written and published lately.

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One of my hopes for 2013 is to get back into the habit of answering canning questions and writing helpful tutorials (like I’ve done in the past under the heading Canning 101). If you have a question related to canning, preserving or anything jar-related, please send it my way and I’ll do my best to answer. Leave it in the comments on this post, or shoot me an email!

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calendar winner

The winner of the Eat Real Food 2013 Calendar is Alyson (commenter #19) from The Hasty Quilter. If you didn’t win and you’re pining after the calendar, there’s still a handful of them available for purchase at Seedling Design.

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I’m taking the month of January off from giveaways and product-centric posts. They’ll be back after a fashion in February, but I just need a break from the focus on stuff.

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Red Leaf, Goat Cheese and Fuyu Persimmon Salad

red leaf, goat cheese and persimmon salad

Of all the things I love the potlucks (seeing friends, sharing food, only having to make a single dish instead of an entire meal), I think my favorite aspect is the opportunity to try food from other home cooks.

While I like my own cooking, I find it woefully easy to fall into flavor and ingredient ruts. Eating food made by friends and neighbors is can be an opportunity reset weary taste buds and get excited about cooking again (of course, this all depends on the people who are attending your potluck. It can certainly be hit-or-miss).

a quick quarter pint jar salad dressing

Oops. Sorry for the artless blur. I ate lunch late this day and the light was fading.

This salad is an example of inspiration delivered via potluck. A couple winters back, I was at one and towards the end of the evening, someone brought a metal mixing bowl filled with tender lettuce, slivers of onion and wedges of persimmon. Dressed simply and very lightly salted, it knocked my socks off. I went back for thirds and made plans to imitate it immediately. Since that night, this salad goes into steady rotation the moment persimmons arrives.

tossed

My current version consists of a large bowl of red leaf lettuce*, a whole Fuyu persimmon (click here to see a illustrated piece on the different kinds of persimmons) cut into wedges and a couple tablespoons crumbled chevre. Some days, I’ll add shaved red onion and some toasted nuts, too. I put a little olive oil, fruity vinegar, salt and pepper into a quarter pint jar, shake until combined and drizzle over everything. Makes for a delicious lunch!

*I always buy a head and wash it myself. Makes for much fresher tasting salads than the pre-washed and bagged stuff, and it’s cheaper, too. Tear, wash and dry a whole head (I love my salad spinner for this). Bag it up and eat from it for 2-3 days. It’s one of those tasks that is easy to dread, but ends up taking less than ten minutes if you’re quick about it.

Have you discovered a new dish at a potluck that you’ve made your own?

 

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Eat Real Food 2013 Calendar Giveaway

eat real food calendar

When I was growing up, there was always a calendar hanging on the side of refrigerator. Secured by a hooked magnet up top and two clippy ones along the edges, it was the repository for sleepovers, school plays, and the dates when were assigned to bring snacks for choir practice. Our lives were simple enough back then that a month of small boxes held a family’s worth of commitment without strain.

Up until last January, I still used a paper planner (though it was a whole lot more detailed than the old fridge calendar method). But as life expanded, there wasn’t enough space to hold all my to-do lists, deadlines, and reminders. I switched to a Google calendar and have breathed more easily since.

calendar pages

I’ve missed having a paper calendar, though. I like having a physical thing that helps me measure the days and weeks. And at the turn of each month, it’s fun to have a new picture to keep me company.

When Anna Hewitt from Seedling Design emailed, offering to send me a copy of her Eat Real Food calendar, I jumped at the chance to have a physical calendar in my life again. Printed on sturdy card stock, this monthly calendar isn’t bound together. That means you can arrange it in a grid on a cork board, or you can prop a single month on a bookshelf or stick it to the fridge with a magnet.

close-up

Each month features an image of a sewn design (handmade by Anna) that represents some different aspect of food and community. It is quietly charming and such a good reminder that we all need allow ourselves the time to nourish, sustain, and grow in this new year.

Thanks to Anna, I have a second calendar to give away to one of my readers. If you’d like to enter for a chance to win it, here’s what to do.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share how you track and measure your days. Paper planner? Calendar on the fridge? Online datebook?
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, January 5, 2013. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday.
  3. Giveaway open all.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

If you don’t want to wait to see if you win, you can also click over to Seedling Design and pick up a calendar for yourself today (before the new year too far underway). It’s just $20, which isn’t too much for a year’s worth of art and helpful reminders!

Disclosure: Seedling Design sent me two calendars, one to keep and one to give away. They did not pay for inclusion in this post and my opinions are entirely my own.