This is the first of a pair of pear recipes I've worked up in the past week. Both rely on the natural comraderie between pears and walnuts, but then I called in two very different charismatic accomplices. In the first instance—certainly the more conventional—I added a few brandy-soaked raisins for a jam that's as reassuringly familiar as an old college friend. It's good company. Then I tried something new with the addition of wild fennel seeds foraged from the canyons. The results this time were worldly and thrilling, like an encounter with a stranger from the Old World.
Let's start with the old friend. PEAR PRESERVES WITH WALNUTS AND RAISINS is abundant, complex and a bit nostalgic—truly a jam that saves the season.
Back in the spring and summer, I tried to make jams that took a single fruit and expressed its singular flavor. The goal was a simple jam—strawberry or apricot—but the best version of it you've ever tasted. When I experimented with supplemental flavors, such as adding elderflower to strawberries or gin to blueberries, my goal was only to intensify the fruit, to restore some of the vibrancy of the raw ingredient to the cooked product. Anyone tasting those jams would have been hard pressed to decipher the secret ingredient. That was by design: as I wrote in an earlier post, I wanted the supplemental flavor to come across as a suggestion, not a declaration.
Now I'm trying to cram many flavors into a single jar. Why, I wonder?
One answer is easy: the fall harvest offers a bounty that includes not just the ancient autumnal fruits—apples and pears—but also nuts and dried foodstuffs such as raisins. "What grows together, goes together" holds true. For me the taste of fall is a composed salad of bitter greens like chicory or dandelion with slivered pears, toasted almond slices and new raisins. Preserve that concept as a jam and what you have is the topping for winter's oatmeal breakfast—pears, walnuts and raisins brought together with honey
But there's something else, I think. The fall harvest is rich in elemental tastes that evoke our own memories—of eating raisins in kindergarten, for instance—and equally connect to our deepest collective roots as a civilization. Grapes, apples, pears and nuts have fed humankind since we were nothing more than scattered bands of hunter-gatherers roaming the unsettled creation of pre-history. I'd suggest that my urge to lay by a store of sweet fruit and fatty nuts must go back as far.
Outside my window at Greenvalley, the squirrels have been burying acorns. In the kitchen I'm doing my version of same; it's time to pack the cupboards with everything that grows. This preserve is like an autumn cornucopia in a jar: honeyed pears, freshly hulled walnut and new-crop raisins—three kinds of sweetness—all enlived by threads of lemon zest.
PEAR PRESERVES WITH WALNUTS AND RAISINS
3 lbs ripe bartlett pears
REVISED 1 1/4 cup sugar
REVISED 1/4 cup honey (or more to taste)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnut
1/2 cup raisins
about 1/4 cup brandy, rum or wine
zest of 1/2 lemon
REVISED juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Plump the raisins by soaking them overnight in your alcohol of choice.
2 The next day, peel and core the pears. (You'll have about 2 pounds of prepared fruit.) Slice into small cubes and toss with juice of a half lemon to prevent browning.
3 Combine pears, honey and sugar in a preserving pan and bring to a boil. Skim the foam thrown off by the honey and cook at a steady boil for 5 to 7 minutes.
4 As the mixture begins to thicken, add strained raisins (not the liquor) and walnuts. Continue reducing for perhaps 5 minutes more until a jell-set is achieved, then add the lemon zest and, if you like, a little more lemon juice to taste. Return to a brief boil, ladle into prepared jars and seal.
5 Process in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.
3 pounds of pears yielded just over 1.5 pints