I must admit – I’m not entirely ready for the hallowed Keatsian season. As I write, we’re just about clinging onto August, and as a resolute lover of the sun, I still hold out hopes of an Indian summer.
But Nature tells a different story. Most vegetable and fruit crops have been early this year, thanks to the optimal growing combination of warmth, sunshine, and occasional showers following our long, wet winter. And so it’s proving again with pears and other traditionally Autumnal fruits in this part of Kent. The blackberries are already finished, and I’ve just been out to gather in what is probably the penultimate picking of pears from our community orchard.
Three pear trees were planted on a bitingly cold winter’s day nearly four years ago. Happily, they’ve all survived, and this year, for the first time, they’ve borne a significant quantity of fruits. The Comice have thrived best of all, and it’s from them that I’ve made a few jars of lightly spiced jam.
Married with spices, pears really come to life. In this recipe, tweaked from one of Marguerite Patten’s, I’ve added a special wine, too – Chapel Down’s gorgeous dessert wine, the appropriately-named Nectar (2009 vintage).
900g peeled and cored slightly underripe pears
6 tbsps dessert wine (avoid those with strident citrussy notes)
0.25 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamom
900g granulated sugar
4 tbsps fresh lemon juice
Dice the pears (Patten suggests 1.5cm). Put into your pan along with the wine. Simmer over a low heat until the pears become soft. Add the sugar and lemon juice, keeping the heat low, and stir until the sugar has fully dissolved. Then turn the heat up very high and boil the jam rapidly – don’t stir! – until it reaches setting point (approx. 104.5C, but check with the wrinkle test). Turn the heat off, and leave to cool very briefly. At this point, I also add a generous knob of cold butter – it helps disperse any lingering scum and gives the jam additional richness. Spoon into hot, sterilised jars and seal tightly. This quantity should give you about 6 x 8oz jars.