Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I think I'm gonna like the movie.
We need to have a bathroom upstairs.
I made pear preserves just like my MawMaw made.

Guess which one I'm going to tell you all about today?

Up until yesterday no one had been able to duplicate her recipe and though I probably still haven't gotten it just right, it's the closest any of us have come in the 15 years since my Mom's mother's mother died.
So, you might be asking, why not just find a pear recipe and make it-preserves can't be that hard can they?
We've all tried and-trust me-nothing has been even close. The mystique has only grown with time and our memories have waxed nostalgic with remembered flavors and textures.

Now, my brain is the kind that likes to puzzle things out waaaay in the background while I'm doing other stuff and then surprises me with EUREKA! at the strangest times. Add in my love of cooking and you can figure the rest of the story.
3 0'clock in the morning, about 4 years after seriously talking about these preserves with my Mom, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins at a family gathering, I woke up and just knew what MawMaw's secret was and what to do to recreate her pear preserves.

What was her secret?

Don't worry, I'll share.


MawMaw didn't make pear preserves, she made quince preserves.
Quince and pears look alike but believe you me they aren't the same.
How do you find quince?
Good luck at the grocery.
What you really need to do is find someone who has an old pear tree in their backyard and knock on their door and ask them if you could have a few pears.
They will tell you that those pears aren't ever any good, they never get soft or sweet and they aren't sure why they haven't just cut the pesky no good tree down yet.
You my friend have just struck gold.
Way back in olden days many people planted a quince tree so that they could put up preserves and chutneys with the fruit which is extremely hardy and relatively pest free-unlike a sweet soft pear. Now this tree planting took place sooooo long ago and so few people these days know anything anymore about the days before jams, jellies and sweets were found at the grocery-the days when many people put up their own food, stocking up the Winter pantry with Summer's bounty-that the current owners of home and tree are clueless about the delights to be found in their own backyard.
Which brings us back to the neighbor...
Ask them if you can pick a bag or so, or even just get all the windfall up off the ground for them (since you're planning on canning them a little bruising doesn't hurt) so...
Chances are good that they will agree and somehow think they are getting the better part of the deal.

Win Win!

Hopefully you now have about 3 pounds of hard bitter fruit.
What to do, what to do?
Let the quince sit on the counter for a day or two-it won't hurt a thing. Eventually you'll decide you need that counter space for something and be ready to get to work.
Get a sharp little knife and start peeling and slicing those hard buggers. Let me share the proper technique. Peel the skin with small firm movements of the wrist towards yourself, bracing the quince with your opposite hand and cutting hand thumb. When the peel is gone continue the peeling motion around the fruit cutting thin slices off as you go and discarding any bruised flesh. The slices you cut should be no more than a quarter inch thick, thinner if you can manage it. Don't worry about coring the fruit as you'll know when you can't get any more good stuff off, most quince have a significantly hard grainy center-believe me. Do the slicing as you peel, over a bowl to catch the surprising amount of juice that is released. Don't worry about the quince turning brown, it's supposed to! Okay okay, the preserves are supposed to end up dark if you want it to be like MawMaw's-you do want it to be like hers don't you? Keep peeling and slicing until you end up with about 2 1/2-2 3/4 pounds of prepared fruit.
Here comes the hard part...
Dump the fruit into a big dutch oven type pot and dump over the top about 2 cups of sugar and oh, maybe a half cup of water, stir and bring to a low simmer.
Keep simmering the fruit over lowish heat until it is transparent and a dark pinkish golden brown. The "juice" should be almost honey like in consistency and there won't be a ton of it (this step takes forever but don't give into the temptation to turn up the heat). Give it a taste and if it's too sweet for you add in a teaspoon or more of lemon juice, on second thought the little bit of acidity is nice so why don't you go ahead and add the lemon juice anyway.
In the meantime you have by now realized that you don't have enough jars so you have made a quick run to the store for more, cajoled someone-in this case Big Daddy D-to unload the dishwasher, and then loaded the dishwasher up with the new jars, lids, and bands and run the dishwasher on its STERILIZE setting* and are just waiting for everything to be ready.
Which could take a few hours I'll be honest. Those quince are something else but worth it.
Really truly!
Okay, the fruit is finally done, transparent and glossy like stained glass and your jars are sterile.
Time to fill 'em up!
Place your jars on a clean dish towel next to the stove/pot but leave the lids and bands in the hot steamy dishwasher.
Spoon the hot quince into the hot jars, leaving about 1/4-1/2 inch clearance at the top and when the fruit is gone pour any juice left over the fruit-use your best judgement about which jar needs what. Place the hot lids on the still hot jars, put the bands on and just hand tighten them-don't go all crazy with that, you might break something-namely the jar and that would suck because you have worked so damn hard to get to this point and there is NO SALVAGING when broken glass is involved.
Where were we?
If you know you'll be eating these preserves up within a couple of months* then just turn the jars over on your dishtowel and listen for the eventual *POP* as the seal is made, let the jars cool down completely(this could take a day so be prepared) then turn them back over and check that the proper seal has been made and store them in a cool dark cupboard. If the seal hasn't been made you have a couple of choices. The first is to just put the jars that didn't seal into the fridge and eat them all up in a couple of weeks. The second option is to put the jars(with the lid and band still on)(I figure you probably already knew that but it almost never hurts to say stuff like that again) into a deep pot and cover with at least an inch of water and then bring it all to a boil and continue to process the preserves for about 15-20 minutes. Carefully lift the hot jars from the water and set aside to cool down. You should hear the *POP* this time for sure.
If you don't hear the *POP* this time then your preserves are letting you know that it is time to make some biscuits and get the butter out.
Which is of course the best way to enjoy MAWMAW'S PEAR PRESERVES! Some sausage links would be tasty too.

Makes about 40 ounces of preserves. I ended up with 10 4oz jars this time and I'll try for that much again next time.

After reading this convoluted "recipe/technique" you are probably no longer wondering why MawMaw's preserves have been a mystery for the past 70 years. I am a sucker for this stuff though and have to spread the love that comes from recreating old memories and making new ones.

*If your dishwasher doesn't have a sterilize setting or you don't have a dishwasher at all, just boil the heck out of your jars, lids and bands.
*Oh, do the hot water processing anyway if you are making enough preserves to last for months and months and months-I probably should have mentioned that earlier...


Huff Daddy said...

1) Being that Desperado is in my top 5 all time favorite movies, I'm excited about Machete.

2) We have 3 or four pear trees with pears that I think taste nasty and they don't look like the pears in the grocery. Maybe they are quince?

Brook said...

2)I bet you a jar that they are quince and would make delightful preserves.

Brook said...

HD El Mariachi is better...;)

Huff Daddy said...

Yes El Mariachi is better, but Salma's not in it. :D

Well if these pears are quince, you can have them. My wife likes them. We have way too many, they never seem ripe to me. I find the texture to be awful, very grainy. She says we have two different kinds that look the same to me.

Brook said...

HD I am just not into Antonio or Salma that much-though Trejo has always been hot to me-strange huh? you should have brought me a box of those quince when you came through-was it last month? Oh wait, I didn't see you should let somebody know when you'll be less than 10 minutes away! Shame on you! ;)
Dinah might like the preserves-you should make some for her. Sometimes a quince will get super ripe and be crisp juicy and kind of sweet.

Spellbound said...

This was a great post. I called my grandmother Mawmaw too but she never made pear or quince preserves as far as I can remember. She canned a lot of fruit and vegetables and made grape jelly from her vines. I think I might just try to make some quince when I get back to Virginia. My mother made pear pineapple honey which was a preserves that was super sweet and I never liked.

Brook said...

Spellbound thanks-I still haven't caught all the misspellings and grammar mistakes but that is what the edit button is for...MawMaws will forever hold a special place in my heart-did yours have a sweet chirpie bird voice? Mine did and I can still close my eyes and hear her just going on, you know? Her cheeks were so round and friendly and soft, her hands so busy...I have a great bad picture of her and her daughter, her daughter's daughter, her daughter's daughter and that daughter's daughter. 5 generations! (MawMaw, Nonie, Grandma, Me and Minion #1-it is truly wonderful) I have never made nor had homemade grape jelly/jam-NEW MEMORIES waiting...Keep having a great time in Seattle(?)!

Victoria said...

Okay, this is great. I may just begin putting up fruit (quince) because you wrote this post and made it so (?) ..less intimidating? Such has always been beyond me (and I know from your preserves and, yeah = damn good).

I love this post! Oh, and Machete? Can't wait.

So, what are your thoughts on acorn squash..?

Brook said...

Victoria I have to confess, I have never ever prepared acorn squash and subsequently enjoyed it. I don't think I've figured it out yet-though I do have some ideas for this Fall.
Intellectually I understand that preserving food can be scary but I literally spent entire summers as a child picking and preserving fruits and vegetables and the knowledge is just kind of there. I hated it so much then that I deliberately avoided even a hint of continued "hick" activity as a young adult. It is only in the past few years that I can appreciate the wisdom in working with the seasons and acknowledge my thankfulness for the "hick" women that taught me so much before I even knew I was learning. Things about life and just living, being in the moment and dealing with what you have for this one day and not thinking too much about yesterday or worrying about what tomorrow might bring(mostly 'cause they were too tired I think ;)
It's funny isn't it how certain activities bring so much that is hidden inside to the surface? I mean who'da thunk that little old "granniemaws" as I so disparagingly called them years ago could know and teach so much without saying a word?
I like that you say and ask things that make me think and then share. I have some preserves with your name on them-good with pork, sausage and let's not forget...bread!

ginstonic said...

You showed me a while back some pics of quince and I totally agree that is probably the fruit mawmaw used. I liked eating the quince, very crunchy and sour/sweet. My aunt had an apple tree that had little hard round green apples that were sour/sweet and I loved them too. These were probably all some kind of heritage fruit, sure would like to have a few of those trees for the farm.

Victoria said...

If the ability to preternaturally do things like put up fruit and vegetables means one is a hick, then slap me twice and call me a hick-wannabe.

[My grandmother on my dad's side was one of those people who could taste anything in any restaurant/home and replicate it later from memory. She was nearly savant when it came to cooking. My dad, late in life, as a means to get her respect (because no one ever could) started cooking. It was so terrible in the beginning that no one noticed when he had surpassed my mom and everyone else. Finally. At age forty or so. His food was out of this world. Unfortunately, all of my grandmother's recipes were what my dad started with. He messed with them (seriously - neurotically) in the beginning so much that they (in their now "documented form) are unrecognizable as her recipes. Which is fine, but it means that my grandmosther's recipes are lost (in the scribbled translation) and all that is left is my dad's versions of these things (and even they aren't "right" - I think he made a monkey out of me from beyond the grave in a few instances = ha ha hilarious).

If someone in my family had simply spent time casually teaching me how to cook (instead of later handing me this thousand page unreadable, useless TEXT) I might, too, have it in my bones.

So, I honor those that do this. you know, with love.

This is long, I know. But your recipes (and the stories that are intertwined) are GREAT. Please, keep them coming!

Amy said...

Brook-Just read these comments. Your Sept 8 post had me teary eyed. You get it.:)I am getting it too...yay.:)