This post is in honor of the upcoming inauguration and the hope for better times ahead. For me, Small Batch Pear Ginger Jam honors this milestone and progress to ending a dark period because of my associations with this recipe.
As you may know, my last book, All Stirred Up: Suffrage Cookbooks, Food, and the Battle for Women’s Right to Vote is about how US women got the vote. I grew up taking voting for granted. But once I moved to DC, I realized how precious that right is. And with my research for the book, I discovered much about how difficult the path was for women to win that right.
In the “before times”, before elections my beloved and I used to canvas with our friend Deborah Katz. The District of Columbia is not a state and we do not have Congressional representation. (Of course we vote in DC and care about our local elections, but honestly we do not have much of a voice as voters because of DC’s status as a district rather than a state.) Together, we drove to Virginia to support candidates who shared our views in the hope that our work would have more impact than canvassing for votes in DC.
As we moved into quarantine, like many others, I had the urge to cook my frustrations away. But they didn’t disappear entirely even with hours at the stove. Deborah came to the rescue in several ways. First, she presented us with a jar of this lovely jam. (Presents are always good for lifting my spirits, especially when they involve food.) Then after a request, she sent me the recipe and these photos of her beloved Grandmother Celia, the recipe creator.
Celia was a farm woman, with lots of homemaking and farming skills . But she also took time out to have fun.
And yet she also knew how to dress up and enjoy a night out. Love the get up! Classic, especially with the purse and those “cat glasses.”
And maybe most important, she kept cooking. Here she is, 93 years old, at the stove. A role model if ever I had one.
Deborah’s gifts to me didn’t stop with the jam and the glimpses into her grandmother’s life. She also arranged a lovely outdoor get together with treats and mutual friends. And she sent cards with heartfelt messages. A true friend. Often our mutual interest in voting and issues comes up as we stay connected. And now with the inauguration close at hand, this recipe and Deborah’s friendship make me smile and feel optimistic.
I don’t know what Celia’s politics were or even if she voted. But I feel sure she would be glad if she knew how far her ginger pear jam recipe has traveled and how much it means to me.
This jam is great for ginger lovers like me. Yet it also appeals to those who simply enjoy a sweet-but-tangy condiment. It is especially good on bagels, croissants, and excellent bread of all types. When I first made it I had a few Passover rolls still frozen and it was scrumptious on those. (Note to self – make a batch before Passover rolls around again.)
It would also work well as a condiment on a turkey sandwich. I can think of a several other ways I might try it if I could just keep some of it around long enough to experiment.
Tips for Making Small Batch Ginger Pear Jam
- Which type of pears to use? Deborah uses Bartlett and I used Bosc. Either type works well. To see the differences in their flavor profiles, check out the descriptions from the pear growers association, USA Pears. The association also has great tips on ripening and handling pears.
- Small batch vs. water canned jam – what’s the difference? I learned to water bath can from Cathy Barrow. It’s a useful technique for preserving large amounts of a jam, sauce, or fruit. Water bath canned items do not require refrigeration until you open the jar. However, when making a small batch, I simply put the preserves in sterilized jars and keep them refrigerated even before opening the jar. I save the time it takes to can but use a bit of space in my refrigerator. For me, that’s a good trade-off.
- Does making this recipe require skill? I wouldn’t say so. Patience and following the directions will be all you need. Plus a few simple ingredients. It’s the perfect way to stir your anxiety away or celebrate a new dawn.
The process is simple. You cut everything up and let it sit together in a non-reactive pot.
After you simmer it for a long time, the pear pieces mostly disintegrate and the flavors meld.
Once the jam is thickened, you test it using a freezing cold plate or with a thermometer if you have one.
Once it’s done, you pour the jam into sterilized jars.
They can be reusable jam jars as long as you have put them (including tops) through the dishwasher on sanicycle or boil them.
Small batch pear ginger jam
This is a half-recipe handed down to me by a dear friend. The jam is not too sweet, with enough ginger to be noticeable, but not too heavy.
- 2 pounds ripe pears (Bosc or Bartlett) - peeled, cored and cut into small pieces About 4 pears
- 2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger 1/2 oz/20 g
- 1 & 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest 1/4 oz/10 g
- 3 cups granulated sugar 21 oz/594 g
Put all of the ingredients into the large pot. Either layer them or mix. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour, until all the sugar dissolves.
On low heat, bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue cooking until the jam is thick but not sticky, stirring frequently. Cooking time varies considerably. The range Deborah provided for a double recipe (using 4 pounds of pears) was 90 minutes to almost 2 hours. I found that my 2 pound batches took about 1 & 1/2 to 1 & 3/4 hours, i.e. 90 - 105 minutes. To test for doneness, either use a thermometer (done at 220 degrees F/105 C or use frozen plates. The plate test requires freezing the plates until quite cold (I put them in the freezer when I start the jam cooking.) Remove a plate from the freezer. Spoon a small amount of jam onto the plate. After a minute or so, when it is cool enough to touch, run your finger through the jam. If it has a skin and does not run, it's set. If it is still runny, let it continue to simmer for another few minutes and test again.
Once the jam is ready, remove the pot from the heat. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, then ladle it into the jars, clean off any drips with a moistened cloth and close the jars. Refrigerate
For a good description of the plate test and another way to check for doneness using the spoon (the "sheet test"), see Food in Jars, a wonderful resource on canning.