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
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
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.
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.
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.