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
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.