Caramel Pear Preserves

A few weeks ago I gathered my courage and tried my hand at making preserves. A sweet couple in our church gave me a bucket of figs, some advice, and a vague recipe. I glanced at a few more recipes online, then plunged right into the world of preserving and canning. My Balsamic Fig Preserves were very good (especially eaten with pork tenderloin,) but the Vanilla Fig Preserves were our favorite. JD and I ate a whole jar in a week.

So, when my father-in-law brought me a HUGE bucket of pears, I knew just what to do with them. Now, my father-in-law is one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met. He not only brought me pears, but he and my mother-in-law took Piper home with them to spend the night! They got to play with Piper, she got some quality time with her grandparents, JD got the TV to himself, and I got some uninterrupted time in the kitchen. Win-win-win-win.

I have no idea what kind of pears these are. They came from the backyard of a cute old man named Chief. They’re much harder than the pears I buy in the grocery store, but very sweet and crunchy. Once, at a family reunion, I picked some pears similar to this from my great-aunt’s pear tree. I didn’t have a vegetable peeler back then, so I peeled them all with a paring knife. That was awful. Pure torture. This time around, I was very thankful for that peeler.

If you’re so inclined to try making your own preserves, here’s what you need to do:

First, wash and peel the pears. I did this four pears at a time. I don’t really know why I chose to do it that way, but it just worked for me. Next, slice them thinly. I started out quartering the pears and using a paring knife to remove the seeds and core. But these pears were so hard that it was really time consuming. Plus, I’m clumsy and was afraid I’d cut myself. So, I started cutting around the core Barefoot Contessa style. I may have lost some of the good meat of the pear, but it was worth it to ensure I didn’t lose any fingers! As you slice the pears into a bowl, cover them generously with sugar. I added about a cup to a cup and a half of sugar after every eight pears. Just add as much or as little as you want keeping in mind that the more sugar you add, the sweeter and more caramel-ly your preserves will be. And don’t even think about using fake sugar. That stuff will kill you. Keep it real, and remember that these are a treat. If some sugar is good, more sugar is better!

Here’s where I added my secret ingredient: vanilla. I was surprised when none of the pear preserve recipes I looked at called for vanilla. It just seemed like a no-brainer to me! And I didn’t just use any vanilla; I used my best. This stuff, Los Cinco Soles Vanilla, was given to me by a couple at church who had just returned from a cruise to Mexico. (Being the preacher’s wife really does have some perks!) This is seriously the best vanilla I’ve ever tasted, and I’ll be ordering some more from here when I run out.

Just add a few drops to a teaspoon-full over your pears and stir them up. After all your pears are sliced, sugared, and vanilla-ed, cover them with plastic wrap and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight and macerate. They’ll release all their juices and soften a little bit. Here’s what they’ll look like the next day:

See? I didn’t add any water – that’s all pear juice. I was curious at this point and tasted a slice, and oh my goodness, it was so good. It was still crunchy, but extra sweet. A good foretaste of things to come.

Next, just dump the pears and all their juice into a big pot and turn it to high. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer away.

The pears will need to simmer for a while – probably two or three hours. Remember, they are hard pears and will take a while to soften. They need to cook low and slow, and as they cook, the sugars will begin to caramelize and add that yummy caramel flavor that we’re going for.

This is about halfway. The pears are getting softer, and I’m starting to break them up with my spoon as I stir. And by the way, as I was cooking these, I was doing other things around the house and watching the Olympics. If they’re cooking slowly over medium heat, they only need stirring every ten to fifteen minutes.

They’re almost done now. At this point, you need to watch them more closely to make sure they don’t stick on the bottom. You can keep chopping at them with a wooden spoon or use a potato masher to break them up. I like a smoother consistency to my preserves, so I mashed them up pretty good.

Notice the pretty caramel color? That’s what we’re going for. I once heard a tv chef say that in culinary school, if you’re asked your favorite color, the correct answer is always golden brown. That’s the idea here. Golden brown = sweet and caramel-ly.

Now, the hard part for me was deciding when the pears were done. Being inexperienced at preserves, I decided I was finished cooking them when all the liquid had cooked out and they were starting to “gel.” If you scrape across the bottom of the pot and the preserves stay separated for a few seconds, they’re probably done.

Now, here’s where we can do things several different ways. You should sterilize your jars and lids. (I washed the jars in the dishwasher and kept them hot using the plate warming setting until I was ready to use them, and I boiled the lids and rings in a small pot.) But after you put the preserves into your sterilized jars, they need sealing. You can use a water-bath method or a pressure canner, or you can cheat, like I did.

I can’t remember where I learned this method, but it’s a keeper. After your jars are filled, wipe the rims clean and screw on the lids. Then, just flip the jars upside down. The heat from the hot preserves will seal them. After 30 minutes or so, you can flip them upright and press down the seal. If it stays in and doesn’t pop out, it’s sealed and you’re good to go!

My HUGE bucket of pears yielded 12 jelly jars of preserves (in two batches.) They’re super yummy and taste like caramel. We’ll be eating them on biscuits and toast, and I’m sure I’ll find a way to cook with them, too.

Operation Pear Preserves = Success!

A Puritan Prayer

Several years ago I was introduced to a wonderful book called The Valley of Vision. Edited by Arthur Bennett, it is a collection of prayers from a dozen well-known Puritans including John Bunyan, David Brainerd, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. These prayers all follow a poetic structure (which my inner grammarian loves,) and I love to read through them as my heart echoes their words to God.

A prayer about the family is my current favorite, especially this excerpt:

Let those that are united to me in tender ties be precious in thy sight and devoted to thy glory. Sanctify and prosper my domestic devotion, instruction, discipline, example, that my house may be a nursery for heaven, my church a garden of the Lord, enriched with trees of righteousness of thy planting, for thy glory. (from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett.)

This has been my prayer lately. I need constant reminders that my “domestic devotions” of laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc. are a means that God uses to sanctify me. I need to remember that my purpose in instructing and disciplining Piper is her eventual salvation and sanctification. I love the image of my home being a nursery for heaven where I am raising and training future saints. And the last part reminds me that everything I do as a woman, a wife, and a mother is for His glory.

Good stuff. I’m thankful for the Puritans and the way that centuries later, I can echo their prayers and “amen” their words.

Summer 2012

The Thorne family has had a busy, wonderful summer so far. We have a love-hate relationship with the Alabama heat and humidity: we love that we live in a warm climate, we love that we’re no longer sweating in the south Alabama humidity, but we hate that it’s too hot to play outside for more than twenty minutes at a time.

The time we’ve spent outside has been at the splash pad or in the pool. Piper loves the water, and we all enjoy a chance to cool off a bit.

Our town has so many events that our family enjoys. Every Monday we pick up Moe’s and have a picnic at the Concert in the Park with our friends. Our favorite event of the summer, though, was the Alabama Jubilee hot air balloon festival.

We were able to walk around and see the balloons up close, then see them lit up at night. How cool is that?

In June we participated in the Lupus Walk in Birmingham. My sister’s boyfriend, Evan, was diagnosed with Lupus in December. He’s been undergoing treatment, and just this week was told that he’s in full remission! The Walk was a huge success with hundreds of participants and lots of money raised. Highlight of the day? I turned in my raffle tickets and won a one-night stay at Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa! JD and I are very much looking forward to a weekend getaway (without Piper!)

A few weeks later, we were able to go to the beach with JD’s parents. This was Piper’s first beach experience, and she loved the sand and the water. Our little daredevil knows no fear and no limits. She wanted us to let go of her so she could swim in the ocean by herself.

My parents were able to come down for a few days, so Piper had all four of her grandparents doting on her at once. Spoiled much? But really, we are so thankful for our families and that we can do things all together. Seriously. So thankful.

We celebrated the Fourth of July with our family, some friends, and elk burgers.

photo credit: Brittany Farris

I’m not sure if it was the elk meat, the Big Green Egg, or the cute chef who did the grilling, but those were some tasty burgers! And sweet Brittany brought her camera and took some wonderful pictures.

photo credit: Brittany Farris

Here in the South, VBS is a summer staple. Our VBS in July was a big hit. We had 75 children, around 50 volunteers, and three professions of faith. The kids focused on trusting God no matter what, and had a great time learning Bible stories and songs to help them see what trusting God looks like. Piper was teething and clingy that week, but her Daddy didn’t seem to mind.

photo credit: Brittany Farris

Since VBS, our church has been full of visitors. We’re running short on chairs and nursery workers, but that’s a good thing. Our new members class has been full, too. It’s an exciting time at our church, and we’re so glad that God brought us here.

Whew… what a summer! And it’s not even August yet!