JamMK header

JamMK header

Friday, 28 October 2011

The problem with pears

To look at pears you would think they would be as handy as apples, being so closely related and all, but they aren't. Instead, they are as awkward as their shape. Firstly it is really difficult to catch a pear at its perfect point of ripeness. This is because they ripen from the inside outwards so that by the time the outside is no longer firm to the squeeze, the inside is already going brown and squelchy. And to make matters worse, they continue to ripen off the tree too so there is no hanging about even after they are picked.

So given the need to use them up before they ripen to mush, it would be handy if they could be made into jam or something similar but no! Pears are a low pectin fruit so are very difficult to get them to set when made into a jam. They aren't even the best ingredient for making into chutney as they don't go pulpy the way apples do.

Still, they are a lovely fruit with a beautiful flavour which is worth capturing if at all possible.

One of my favourite ways to capture that lovely pear flavour is in my Figgy Pear Mincemeat. This needs grated raw pear in it and as it doesn't need to reach a setting point the pears can be anything from under ripe to ridiculously overripe. It is then left over night in a bowl with the dried fruit and spices before being cooked and bottled the next day. It is a delightful recipe that fills the house with festive aromas.

I do also love the combination of pear and vanilla flavours and I have used this combination to make ice-cream and cheesecake recipes. And with a little perseverance I have finally come up with a recipe for Pear & Vanilla Jam that actually sets. This is done by including the skin and cores in a muslim bag as a I cook the pears as most of the little pectin that pears contain is found in the skin and core. A little lemon juice helps to extract more of the pectin. Then finally, the addition of pectin I have previously extracted from apples or crab apples adds enough to allow the jam to set.

Of course, all this fiddling about is forgotten when it comes to eating this lovely jam. It is a sweet jam, which probably explains why my daughter loves it, and this lends itself nicely to baking. I have used it for making butterfly cakes, replacing the butter icing with a splodge of jam instead. This week I decided to use some of it to liven up a bread and butter pudding and it went down a storm.

This weekend Frosts Garden Centre are having a Festival of Autumn flavours, featuring pumpkins, apples & pears. I'm pleased to say that my Figgy Pear Mincemeat and Pear & Vanilla Jam will be there, along with my Apple & Cider Mincemeat, Apple & Ginger Jam, All Hallows Marmalade, and two chutneys. I, on the other hand, will be at home, cooking up more of the same from the end of the autumn harvest.

Bread & Butter Pudding

2 eggs
1 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp custard powder
12 fl oz (350ml) semi-skimmed milk
A few drops of vanilla extract
1 oz (25g) butter
4 slices of white bread
1 tbsp spoon Pear & Vanilla Jam (or similar)
3 oz (75g) sultanas

Beat the egg, sugar and custard powder together then add the milk and vanilla. Lightly butter a suitable ovenproof dish (wide and shallow is better than narrow and deep). Butter the bread and then spread with the jam. Cut the slices of bread into 4 triangles then layer two slices worth of triangles into the dish then scatter over half the sultanas. Lay the remaining triangles on top and scatter over the sultanas. Pour over the milk mix and place the dish in the refrigerator until needed or for at least 15 minutes to soak. Preheat an oven to 180°C, gas 4. Bake for 20 minutes then increase the temperate to 190°C, gas 5 for 5-10 more minutes until the bread on top is crisp and golden. Serve hot with custard or cream.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Solar Powered

Doesn't it make a difference when the sun shines! Having a beautiful few days of bright sunshine and warmth at the end of September, beginning of October made a huge difference to all of us I think here in Milton Keynes.

Do you ever think you are solar powdered? It does seem to make us more cheerful, give us more energy and make us want to do things.

There is of course evidence to show that putting your face into bright sunlight for a few minutes (even with your eyes shut) is enough to change your brain chemistry and stop SAD syndrome. But there are less scientific reasons why we feel better when it is sunny. Everything is just easier - we can get about without getting cold and or wet, we can make plans without them being spoilt, we can enjoy the garden and outdoors more rather than feeling cooped up inside.

There is no denying that sunshine is wonderful but it is also extremely important. Without the sun our planet would be a cold, dark and lifeless rock in space. The perfect position of the Earth from the sun allows it to have life upon it. And the most important thing of all, it allows photosynthesis to happen.

Photosynthesis!!! Do you remember that from science lessons at school? That dull equation you had to learn because you knew it would be in the exam.

water + carbon dioxide => food + oxygen

Yeah, yeah, yawny, yawn.

But no, wait! Somehow science lessons managed to turn this absolutely amazing thing in to the dullest thing ever. Just look at what photosynthesis is and what it really means. Plants are able to take the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in water and carbon dioxide and using the energy from the sun rearrange them to create carbohydrates and oxygen. So from water and air they make food and oxygen. That is truly amazing and without it no food chain on the planet would exist. So every time the sun comes up, plants do their magic and grow.

Yep, I am a huge fan of photosynthesis! And of the sun in general for that matter. But now I have gone a step further in my sun worshiping... I have had solar panels installed on my roof. It was good timing to - just before the hottest weekend in October ever. So there I was at the weekend, standing in the garden admiring all that lovely photosynthesis that had produced an abundance of fat pumpkins, squash, broccoli and potatoes. Even the tomatoes where FINALLY getting ripe in the lovely warmth. At the same time, the sun was busily drying my washing for free. And back at the house, the sunlight was being converted into electricity. Now that is almost as amazing as photosynthesis!

So now, as I stand over a boiling pan of chutney I can marvel at the wonders of photosynthesis that made the vegetables, sugar, vinegar and spices in the pan, coupled with the wonders of solar panels that turn sunlight into the electricity powering the hob.