Friday, September 17, 2010

keeping summer around.

Summer came late this year.

June and July passed quickly, and so did my two week trip to Europe; and by the time August rolled around, the sun had still managed to stay hidden behind thick, grey clouds on more days than I could count. Summer isn't exceptionally warm when you live in a Northern California beach town, and you get used to the fog and the colder winds that blow in from the ocean. But this felt different. It felt like Spring would never leave, permanently stuck between seasons, repeating itself like a broken record. And it was starting to get personal. The cold weather had been bullying my garden for so long that it began to take a toll on our fruits and vegetables, leaving them sad and stagnant. Even my neighbors and friends agreed that the weather was affecting everyone, leaving us to sulk around inside, hoping that the never-ending fog outside would somehow dissipate. I felt it too, in the cool breeze that blew through my window at night, forcing me deeper underneath the covers.

But then the end of August came, and things began to change. My garden perked up, and so did I, and all of my favorite seasonal produce finally began to pop up at the farmer's market, which was just starting to come alive again. Watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, green beans, basil, sweet bell peppers and spicy hot peppers. John and I took back with us as much as we could, including a bouquet or two of bright yellow sunflowers that had beckoned to me earlier.

It's not that summer had done it on purpose, making us wait all that time. Maybe she had just forgotten for awhile, or overslept. Either way, we forgave her, asking only in return that she might stay around, for just a little while longer.

It's mid-September now and the sun is still shining, but soon enough it will be gone. Eventually the summer produce will be gone too, so there's really only one thing we can do. We'll stuff all of that delicious food into jars and can it. Jars filled with all kinds of jams and preserves, of green beans and carrots and peppers pickled in their own spicy brine, of homemade ketchup and heirloom tomatoes floating in their own juices. W'ell pickle and preserve and can until we can't stand it any longer- and when winter finally comes back around, and the cold air leaves it's mark on our cheeks, we'll stay inside where it's warm and open a jar of something that tastes like summer. Something to look forward to.

This is just the start. We've canned a lot, and we plan to can a lot more. And lets not forget that fall harvest will be upon us soon enough; so there will be lots of tasty additions to our growing canned collection. Already, the bartlett pears have appeared by the box load, golden and plump and ripe with sweetness. Which is exactly why, last weekend, we mashed them and forced them into submission with a little bit of lemon juice and sugar and vanilla bean. We appropriately titled our creation "Vanilla Bean Pear Jam", and we're proud of it. I really hope that you make it, not just because it's my recipe, but because it's that good. In my opinion, it puts the "J" in Jam- and somehow I think you'll agree.

Vanilla Bean Pear Jam
Yields about 5 half-pint jars 

A must read side note: 

The first time I tasted pear jam with vanilla bean was this summer, while I was staying at my friend Virginie's apartment in Paris, France. The first breakfast that we had together, Virginie broke apart a fresh baguette that she had picked up from her favorite neighborhood "boulangerie" (every Parisian has their personal favorite boulangerie, in which they swear that all other boulangerie's come second). To spread on our bread, she offered me the jam, which was a coveted old family recipe. In fact, the opened jar at the table had been made by Virginie herself, on a recent trip to her parent's house in the country. It was, as I'm sure you can imagine, delicious; and I promised myself I would try to recreate it once I had made it back home to the States. I'm not sure what Virginie's family uses for sweetness, or if they add lemon juice or pectin to theirs, but this combination works for me and tastes good enough that each time I take a spoonful of it, it brings me back to Virginie's kitchen. I hope she approves.

  • 4 cups of bartlett pears, peeled, cored and mashed
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • one fresh vanilla bean pod
  • 3/4 cup unrefined granulated sugar
  • all-fruit natural pectin, amount varies (amount required depends on the pectin brand you choose; it's not a problem, just make sure you use the amount that your brand suggests for the amount of fruit and sugar that is stated in my recipe)
  • five half-pint jam jars and their lids
  • very large pot, or canning pot, for boiling 
  1. Wash your jars and lids with hot, soapy water; rinse well. Leave the lids to dry on a clean kitchen towel. Place the jars in a canning pot and fill with warm water, until the water reaches at least 2 inches above the jars. 
  2. Bring to a rolling boil, and then turn down the heat; let stand in hot water.
  3. Place mashed pears and lemon juice into a large saucepan. 
  4. Add proper amount of calcium water (if using- refer to your brand of pectin's directions).
  5. Mix sugar and proper amount of pectin in a separate bowl, until thoroughly combined.
  6. Scrape the grains out of the vanilla bean pod, and place them (along with the pod) in with the pear mixture. Bring to a boil on medium heat.
  7. Once the mixture is boiling, add pectin-sugar mix to the pan; stirring vigorously for 1-2 minutes, until it has properly dissolved.
  8. Return to boil, and then remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean pod.
  9. Remove jars from hot water. Ladle the jars with the jam to 1/4" from the top of the jar. This is very important if you want a proper seal; don't mess around too much with how much space you leave.
  10. Screw on lids, and place jars back in the pot of hot water, and bring back to a rolling boil. Boil the jars for 10 minutes, from when the water immediately begins to boil.
  11. Remove jars from water. Let jars cool. (You may even hear a "ping" or two come from the jars while they cool; don't worry, this just means they are sealing correctly)
  12. Check seals for proper seal- lids should be sucked down. Lasts about three weeks once opened.


  1. I want it least one jar of each....pleaseeeeeeeee......I loved the pics of always amaze and dazzle me with your almost fragrant descriptions and so atrfully taken pics.....besos,delectable darlunie!!!!!

  2. I need to make some jam of sorts, and I'm really diggin' the picture of the hose. a lot.

  3. Thanks billy- and for the record, I always love your photographs! we need to get together and do our apple butter session soon.

  4. Thanks! hell ya we do. Im gonna do some research to figure out about that apple farm place.then its apple pickin and cookin time.