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Sauced: Pear and Ginger Preserves

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[Photographs: Joshua Bousel]

I didn't really know what having a big family was like until I married into one. My first Christmas with my (now) in-laws, I was left a bit awestruck and overwhelmed as nearly forty family members gathered in one house for an almost twelve hour, two-meal celebration. I've settled into the big family thing by now, but when families get this large, gift-giving becomes a bit of quandary—as much as you want to give each member a token of your thoughts, the sheer number of people makes that a tough proposition.

About five years ago, my wife and I decided we needed to be responsible adults and attempt to give gifts to all. Our solution? Food. Although we've let this take a wide range of incarnations, from cookies to barbecue sauce to chocolate dipped homemade potato chips, each December we're always scratching our heads at what to do next. I thought a seasonal jam may be a good way to go this time around, and having really taken to a pear and ginger pairing in a cranberry sauce recipe I did last month, I decided to give it whirl in preserves form.

Preserving that Holiday Flavor

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My original thought was to make Christmas spiced pear and ginger preserves, so that whenever the receiver used it they'd be reminded of this joyous time of year. I began my initial recipe with firm bosc pears that I peeled, cored, and cut into a 1/4-inch dice. I added them to a medium saucepan with the required hefty dose of sugar—white and brown for added depth—lemon juice, lemon zest, minced fresh ginger, chopped crystallized ginger, nutmeg, allspice, a cinnamon stick, and a pod of star anise.

I let it cook at a rolling simmer and tested along the way to see if it had gelled. The easiest way to check on viscosity is to grab a cold spoon and take a scoop, turn the spoon vertically, and see if the last drops pour off in a sheet, rather than separate drips. It took about 30 minutes for my mixture to come together, at which point I removed it from the heat and let it cool enough to give it a taste.

Unfortunately, I wasn't so pleased with the results. It had the holiday spice I was looking for, but to a fault. That earthy and sharp spice mixed well with the ginger, but overpowered the pears. So while it certainly tasted seasonally appropriate, it wasn't exactly a flavor I wanted to revisit after Christmas.

Preserving the Fruit

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I went back and took another shot at it, this time eliminating the spices altogether and scaling back on the brown sugar to get a sightly lighter sauce than the original. I also changed up the Bosc pears for Bartletts to see if pear choice would make a noticeable difference.

Again, it took about 30 minutes to gel, and this time around was a definite improvement. The flavor was less complex, but that coaxed out more of the ginger, adding a nice bite to the sweetness of the pears. There wasn't much of a discernible difference between the two pear varieties, but the sugar was so pronounced that it was difficult to be entirely sure.

I know jams and preserves are meant to be sweet, but I wanted more fruit flavor and decided to give it one more whirl to see what happened if I remove an entire cup of white sugar.

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As this next batch cooked, I could tell it wasn't becoming as gelatinous as my previous attempts. That said, I still ended up with a nice, thick preserve in the end and the slight loss of consistency was far outweighed by the improvement in flavor.

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The sweet flavor of the pear comes through beautifully, contrasting against the sharp bite of the ginger. Sweet enough without being sickeningly sugary, and the lemon gave it a nice tart brightness. Even without the Christmas spice, it tasted seasonal and makes a nice holiday gift, just not for my family—after making what equated to about eight or nine small jars worth, I was done with dicing pears and couldn't imagine having to do two or three times the amount. So I guess my search for a good high-volume gift continues, but I'm glad this sauce was at least part of the journey.

About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment every other Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every other Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.

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