Something happened to me in the bathroom at Apple Hill on our visit last month. It wasn’t traumatizing, but it did change my life. You see, while I was in a crowded bathroom convincing my three year old son that he did NOT, in fact, have to take off ALL of his clothes to go to the bathroom, my dear well-intentioned husband was buying 40 pounds of apples and 40 pounds of pears. WHY in the name of all that is right and holy would he DO such a thing? Well, I’m sure it just felt like the right thing for him to do. When I returned to find him and the large amount of fruit he had purchased I just stared at him for a long time. This had no effect on his enthusiasm for his purchase. He proceeded to buy me an apple fritter to soothe my troubled mind. I tried to enjoy the day not thinking of what I was going to do with all those apples and pears. (Yes, the fritter helped.)
As those boxes that outweighed my children took roost in my pantry later that day I KNEW I had to figure out what in the HELL I was going to do with all of that rapidly decaying fruit. Of course cobblers and salads and such were made right off, but when that didn’t put a dent in the mounds of space-hogging fruit I knew I had to figure out a way to preserve it. So, of course, I went to Pinterest – the Google of women everywhere – and typed in “Pear Recipes”, crossed my fingers and prayed to the recipe gods. Low and behold, one of the first recipes I stumbled upon was for Vanilla Bean Pear Jam. I read it over, looked at my box of pears and thought – I CAN DO THAT! And ya know what? I DID! Not only did I make this delicious jam, I also made Apple Pie Jam, Cranberry Pear Jam, Cran-Apple Jam and enough Cinnamon Applesauce and Apple-Pear Butter to get us through the winter.
Making jam was one of those things I did NOT think I was capable of … just like I thought I could never be a mom or a professional photographer or good at salsa dancing. Okay… I’m pretty lousy at salsa dancing – but STILL! Jam turned out to be something that was actually pretty straight forward, harder than I thought it would be to screw up, and left room for creative additions. After spending WAY too much time reading about stuff, I needed to make this whole jam thing happen and I finally worked up the mental fortitude to walk into Wal-Mart to get my canning supplies. Sadly, it’s one of the few places around that I could find canning supplies. My local Raley’s has the jars and the pectin, but I needed a water-bath pot and, you know, whatever else they were selling in the canning aisle. Blessedly, these are one-time purchases and I can get cans from various places so I hope my trips to Wal-Mart are over for now. What I found REALLY interesting was the cost of everything. Including the fruit and pectin I spent about $150 on everything. I totally overbought on jars, but that’s okay because I have a feeling there is more canning in my future. But in two days I canned about 75 jars of various sizes. So that comes to about $2 a jar – be it a quarter pint jar or a full pint jar. Since we are keeping the bigger jars for ourselves it’s clearly a savings over what I would have spent on store bought jam that is just teaming with high-fructose corn syrup. Plus, my kids LOVED getting in on the jam making action. My 7-year-old daughter was happy to man the apple peeler, be my taste-tester and counter wiper. My 3-year-old son sat at the counter and shared his views on life with me as I stirred the bubbling pot and also happily ate any apple or pear scraps that didn’t make the cut. It was a great way to spend a Sunday with my kids and EVERYONE is in love with the jams. I am so excited to give jars with a fresh loaf of homemade bread (because YES! I make my own bread too… we’ll get to that in another post) to my neighbors as holiday gifts this year. But I am even more excited when the PBJ’s I send to school with my kids are not just something I slapped together before hurrying out the door before that kid is late AGAIN. They are literally SLATHERED in love! And MAN, it tastes GOOD! Here’s what you need to get a little love spread onto your toast this holiday season.
- 8 cups chopped Bartlett pears (or any smooth, thin-skinned pear. There’s no need to peel.)
- 2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
- 4 cups sugar (I reduced this to three because I was worried it would be too sweet. Glad I did!)
- 1 packet pectin (liquid or powdered)
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine chopped pears, sugar and vanilla beans (and all that bean-y goodness you scraped out). Cook over medium heat until the fruit can easily be smashed with the back of a wooden spoon. Use a potato masher or immersion blender to break the fruit down into a mostly-smooth sauce (remove the vanilla bean solids before blending).
- Add the pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Let boil for a full five minutes in order to active the pectin, so that the finished product will have a nice jammy consistency.
- Fill jars, wipe rims to remove any residual jam, apply lids (heat canning lids in a small pot over very low heat while you’re preparing the jam to ensure a good seal) and screw on the rims.
- Process the filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (start the timer when the pot has returned to a boil). When the time has elapsed, remove jars from pot and place the jars on a towel-lined countertop. Let them cool undisturbed for at least two hours. During this time, the lids should seal. Check to ensure the jars have sealed by pushing down on the center of the lid. If it feels solid and doesn’t move, it is sealed.
Sarah Maren Whitehead is a full time photographer, part time wife and mother and sometimes writer. Her photographs have been seen all over the web, the billboards you drive by everyday to get to work and the glossy pages of magazines and books. When she’s not making pretty pictures you’ll find her dancing in her kitchen, trying to convince herself to go to the gym, but most likely curled up with a good book. You can like her photography on Facebook and follow her boards to see what she’d like for Christmas on Pinterest