Bartlett

For as long as I can remember, I have loved pears. Growing up, Pear only meant Bartlett. Green when picked, left to ripen in box or on counter, the bright yellow skin giving way easily to knife, juice on fingers and chin, my early childhood introduction to decadence and wealth. Our neighbors had grandparents with an eastern Washington fruit farm, so each late summer-early fall brought boxes of free-stone peaches, all kinds of apples, and Bartlett pears to our house. I could not appreciate the scope of such good fortune.

In my now, I have the beautiful fortune of being involved with a group of people who want to support small farms and local farms. This all-volunteer, list-serve organized group finds farmers and produce, creates spreadsheets, organizes pick-up points, giving farmers & consumers access to each other that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Vince's pears
Vince’s pears

For three years running, my pears have been from Vince at Valley View Farm. These pears arrive without labels to remove, picked, sorted, and packed by people I have met, grown with respect for the planet and the workers who aid, part of a dream to provide good food for a family and anyone else who connects. The 35 pounds of pears ripening in my basement took their time, teasing with some yellow, but still too crunchy for eating, until BAM-they were all ready for the kitchen.

This year we ate pears daily, I canned 7 quarts of what Junior calls “Jar Pears”, I dehydrated a load into   sweet, tender deliciousness, and I used some in baking. One of my favorite uses for fresh pear is to combine with cardamom and bake into scones.

My scone recipe originates from Baking With Julia. These scones are light, not too sweet, are tasty with lemon zest only, and hold up well when adding blueberries, raspberries, apples, or pears. I use a food processor to mix the dry ingredients and cold butter, which is then poured into a mixing bowl. I next add the fruit, followed by the liquid. Scones, like biscuits, don’t want to be over-handled, preferring to be kneaded with a “light hand” just until the dough comes together. The dough is then divided into two circles, brushed with melted butter or heavy cream, cut into pieces, and baked in a hot oven.

I think to take pictures well after a project has begun
I think to take pictures well after a project has begun
Almost ready for oven
Almost ready for oven

Care taken by keeping the butter cold, pieces processed just to the size of peas, will give the scones lightness and lift as the hot oven melts the fat, leaving precious tiny pockets of air in the finished product. This recipe calls for buttermilk which I never have on hand, so I substitute sour milk: 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar poured into a 1 cup measure, add milk to fill; let sit for 5 minutes.

Delicious!
Delicious!

Try other fruits, fresh or dried, and different spices to combine with. Add a tablespoon of grated lemon or orange zest. Try out with your preferred gluten-free flour mix or vegan fat of choice, as long as the fat is solid at room temperature. In the recipe below, I used a combination of Einka and whole wheat flours, a total of 3 cups, but a useless measure when using alternative flours. I use a standard of 1 cup flour = 4.9 ounces to make conversions.  Cheers!

Pear-Cardamon Scones
Preheat oven to 425F

Ingredients
8 oz Einka
6.7 oz just-ground whole wheat
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground cardamom
6 oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup diced pears
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1-2 tbsp melted butter or heavy cream
Combine the dry ingredients in bowl of food processor.
Pulse to combine.
Add the bits of butter and pulse carefully until it becomes the size of peas.
Place flour mixture into large mixing bowl.
Stir in diced pears, coating well with flour.
Pour in milk, stirring gently to avoid crushing the fruit.
Gather  dough into a ball, turn onto lightly floured work surface.
Knead gently & briefly, 10-12 turns at the most.
Divide dough into two equal parts, form into disks, brush with melted butter or heavy cream.
Cut each disk into 6 wedges.
Sprinkle with coarse sugar for an added sweet and sparkly finish.

Bake 10-12 minutes.

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Jar Pears

My kitchen feels the smallest during two events of the year: preparing a full-on Thanksgiving dinner and canning summer fruit. Thanksgiving has many bits and pieces to time, baste, whip, season, and get to the table while still hot. The reward for such work is a plate full of comfort. Canning is different.

Canning foods at home goes two ways: water bath canning and pressure canning. Low acidic foods require canning under pressure to make sure no bacteria, especially deadly botulism, is able to grow in the sealed jars. Fruits, including tomatoes, contain enough acid to kill such nasty bacteria, allowing for the use of the less-daunting water bath canner.

Canning begins with produce. This end-of-summer I canned cherries, pears, peaches, apples, applesauce, and many tomatoes. Gurus recommend using only fruit that is ripe and blemish-free. Procure jars, lids with rings, and a water bath canner to have at the ready. It is necessary to use only jars made for canning, free of cracks, and those with chip-free rims. The jars must be washed, then sterilized in boiling water. Use new lids each time as their seal will only work once. The lids and rings will sit in a pan of simmering water until needed.

The ensuing activity becomes a sort of ballet: removing peels, cores, and pits from the fruit, keeping fruit from discoloring, filling jars still warm from their hot water cleanse, adding boiling liquid to cover the jarred fruit, wiping rims, placing lids and rings but not too tightly, setting jars into the warm water of the canner, careful to place on the canner rack to avoid any chance of jars breaking, finally covering the jars with 1″ – 2″ of hot tap water and the canner lid. While the canner boils for 45 minutes, the peelings are composted and I wipe the fruit juice-covered counters clean.The processed jars then rest on some layered towels to allow for cooling and to make the satisfying ‘pop’ of a sealed lid.

All of that for 7 quarts of pears or tomatoes to eat in January.

Unfortunately, you can’t have a jar of peaches and eat it too. Thus the difference for me between canning and Thanksgiving. A prepared meal is always eaten immediately. Preserving summer foods for use in winter creates a commodity, a thing on the pantry shelf, something that if I could buy a like product I most likely couldn’t afford. I don’t want to consume the fruits of my labor.

The flip side to this feeling is one of abundance. I look in my pantry to find very local, seasonally prepared, minimally processed with no sugars added food. The ridiculously steamy September kitchen, the tension of timing, the fear and sometimes reality of broken jars, the neglect of everything and everyone else for a few hours, the labor, is all completely offset by giving such a gift to my family and myself. The little hiss of the broken seal each time I open a jar is a small whispered prayer of gratitude.