I've been making this for a few years now. It came about rather naturally as a box of pears I had intended on canning became riper faster than I could deal with them. Since canning overripe pears simply turns them into mush, this pear butter was a natural addition to my pantry. If you are wondering why one would mix pears and butter and put it in a jar, I would probably say "why not?!" But in actuality there is no butter anywhere near this preserve. It's just the next step past sauce - a simmered mixture of fruit, sometimes flavourings, and a bit of sweetener, cooked until a spreadable consistency is achieved, which is where the butter name is obviously derived. It can be spread on your morning toast like jam or eaten by the spoonful. I love its absolute "pear-ness" in my oatmeal or slathered inside lacy crepes for dessert, doused with the appropriate caramel sauce or stirred into plain yogurt for a nice break from berry or vanilla flavoured.
While pear butters flavoured with spices are common, I think the strong spicy flavours of cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and cloves tend to cover the flavour of the pear up too much and I say keep those other spices for the apple butter. If you have beautifully fragrant, ripe pears I like to marry them with the comforting flavours of vanilla and lemon which accentuate rather than cover the natural flavour of the fruit.
While apple butter is probably the most common type of fruit butter due to its low moisture content and high pectin, which makes it cook to the desired thickness quicker, almost any fruit can be cooked to a butter stage. Pears are a natural candidate because of their already natural buttery texture, although their higher water content definatly makes them take a little more time and attention than apples.
This recipe first requires that you get your hands on at least 10 pounds of pears. Any less and its simply not worth the hours of stirring. Get yourself to a orchard, fruit stand or packing house in your area which still have pears in their storage, or have a friend going out of town pick them up for you, as I did. If that fails you, head to your farmers market. The key with this preserving stuff if to find it in season, plentiful and affordable.
Pear Butter with Vanilla and Lemon makes 10-12 cups
You are going to need to have some time on your hands for this. It won't need attending to constantly, so you'll be able to do some laundry, wrap some Christmas presents (ack!), waste time on the internet, or read a good book, but you will want to be present to stir often. And since this is actually a two step process you can easily split the recipe up by making the pear sauce one day, pop it onto the back porch if its cold out, and then continue on the next day.
10-12 pounds of pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
zest of 2 lemons
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped, or use 4 from your homemade vanilla extract
1 bay leaf
2 lemons, juiced
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1. Peeling 10-15 pounds of pears takes awhile. No getting around that. But its sort of the best kind of prep I think. Its repetitive, relaxing, and doesn't take any amount of skill really. Put on some groovin' music and just plug along.
Before you know it, you'll have a heaping pot of pear pieces. You don't need to chop these up much, just enough to facilitate its breaking down during cooking. If you saw Julie and Julia and immediately went out and bought a pretty Enamelled Cast Iron Pan, this is certainly one of the best uses for it. The ability of the cast iron to hold a consistent temperature is paramount to the hours of reducing. It will also be less likely to scorch in between stirs due to the pans thickness. Don't be afraid to fill it up, it will cook down significantly during the process.
2. If your pears are juicy, like mine were, I simply tumble them into the pot, cover and bring to a full boil, stirring often and adjusting heat. The juice in the pears and the protective quality of the pot will keep prevent sticking at this point. If you are using a thinner bottomed pot add just enough water to add a thin coating onto the bottom of the pan to protect, about 3/4 cup.
3. Once the liquid in your pears has been released and your pears have softened and started to break down a bit, add the vanilla beans, lemon zest (in this case I used the last of my meyer lemons I zested and froze earlier this year. Never waste any part of meyer lemon!) and 1 bay leaf. Keep boiling gently, uncovered. 4. Continue cooking adjusting heat as necessary. You want an active but gentle boil, stirring as often as you like.
5. Once most of the pears have broken into little pieces, its time to puree and get to the butter stage. If you have a hand blender, simply use it now to blend the pear sauce smooth, removing the vanilla pods and the pay leaf first, but leaving the lemon zest which will have softened enough now to blend away into the sauce. If you have no hand blender and want to skip ladling boiling fruit into a blender, you can continue cooking the pear butter. It might take a little longer and won't be as smooth, but what you'll create is a pear butter with texture and some chunks of pear. Not bad, just different.
6. After blending, add half the sugar and the salt and bring to a gentle simmer. The more you can attend to stirring it, the more rapidly you can cook this. In the beginning it will not need to be stirred as much, but as it reduces it will need to be stirred more often or risk scorching. You will want to taste for sweetness as you go, adding more as needed. It will continue to sweeten naturally as it comes together so you don't want to add too much. This process will take anywhere from 2-4 hours. Remember the more you stir, the faster it will reduce. Once it starts to swell and spit like the photo above, and can hold itself on a spoon without running off quickly, it is done. Add the vanilla extract.
7. Once completed, you can either ladle into 1 or 2 cup jars or containers to be refigerated or frozen, OR you can continue to process them for longer storage.
8. If processing, keep the pear butter warm and bring a large canner or stockpot fitted with a rack in the bottom almost half full of water to a full boil. While waiting for boiling place lids in hot water in a small saucepan to soften. Do not boil. Place washed canning jars and rings in a 250F oven for 15 minutes.
9. When water is nearing boiling, get to filling the jars, bring pear butter back to simmer. Using potholders and tongs remove one jar at a time, using a funnel, fill jars full leaving 1/2 headspace. Wipe rim and place lid on top and then screw on ring until fingertight. Return to oven and continue until you have filled all jars that will fit in your stock pot.
10. Place jars on rack in stockpot, bring back to a full and cover with additional boiling water to just cover jars. Put on lid and , once boiling, process for 15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool, making sure all lids have "popped".
11. Store pear butter with lids removed.
- If making a smaller batch, you can simply keep in the fridge. Sealed it should keep for 4-6 weeks.