Chocolate pear jam

I've had this recipe bookmarked for awhile, and a few weekends ago I took the plunge. I armed myself with an armful of Bosch pears, the new Decemberists album and the quiet of a snowy morning. That's just what you do when you find a recipe for chocolate pear jam. You make it happen, no questions asked.

As is so often the case with jam recipes, my yield differed from what was called for. Likely because of a mis-measurement of pears on my part or some science-related explanation of the air quality and humidity levels that morning. I doubled the recipe and ended up yielding only 3 1/2 half pint jars, instead of the four I imagined.

Upon finishing up, I promptly made a batch of scones because I had to. Again, it was chocolate pear jam protocol and I had no choice. Croissants would have also been an acceptable option, and in that case you would do well to just buy them at a local bakery because 1) no one has time to make croissants and 2) I never want to witness how much butter goes into them. It would ruin the experience.

That afternoon, I spread a generous portion of chocolate pear jam atop a freshly baked scone and I thought to myself, "This will save lives." Now, I don't know if that is strictly true in the medical sense of things, but I do know that I will never underestimate the medicinal properties of warm chocolatey pear jam and a pastry. It helps if you stand over the stove stirring the jam and staring out the window as the snow falls, but you might be able to get the same benefit by stealing a jar of the good stuff from someone else. I don't know, but that's why I'm on a mission to put up jars of weird, delicious things you won't easily find at the store. What was once just a shelf to show off my preserves has become an apothecary of sorts, and anything with chocolate in it is bound to show up on the prescription pad.

Would you try chocolate pear jam? You really should. I wonder if my batch is more chocolate-y than the author intended but, then again, I'm not sure that's actually a problem. This is a phenomenal fancy jam that will totally win over your house guests or make your gift of a home-canned jar of something seem really special and not like an afterthought. It's the real deal.

Recipe is another good one fromPreserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. You can find a similar, but not quite the same, recipe on the author's website Food in Jars.

Cranberry ketchup

Continuing my strategy of canning only the weird recipes, right after the holidays I made up a batch of cranberry ketchup using the recipe in Food in Jars. While I was at it, I used the leftover cranberries to make a few jars of cranberry simple syrup to freshen up seltzer and cocktails.

What's cranberry ketchup? I, like so many of you, was totally thrown off the first time I heard about non-tomato ketchup. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO TOMATOES?! That's the beauty of these weird little recipes; they blow up your preconceptions and smash your traditions. I like that sometimes. As it turns out, you can make ketchup from lots of things that aren't tomatoes. What makes ketchup so ketchup-y tends to be the spices and flavor you add to the main ingredient. So for the cranberry ketchup, I sweetened it, spiced it, added onions to it and cooked it way down to a thick, french-fry-dipping consistency.

The verdict? Pretty tasty. It tastes exactly like cranberry ketchup should. Undeniably in the ketchup family, with a slightly odd tartness from the cherries. It hasn't replaced my other ketchup substitute, the beloved tomato jam, but it's a nice switch from my sugary, processed Heinz bottle.

And yes, if you are wondering, I'm a ketchup person. I bastardize my eggs with it and dip everything in it I can find and, in my wild youth, had been known to put it on my mac and cheese. It's blasphemous, but it's delicious. At least I'm trying to expand my ketchup palate, right?

a birthday cake

Chris turned 30 earlier this week! He's just the coolest guy and he makes 30 look

really good

. The day before his birthday, he snagged one last 20-29 age group award at a local Halloween-ish trail race. Really snuck that one in there, right? He won me a cookie, which is not the first running award cookie he's won. What can I say? We run and drink and eat.

We celebrated the milestone with a birthday hike, the rainy and muddy six-mile trail race, fancy dinners and a pub drink. And my mother-in-law made the most stunning birthday cake! Even the restaurant staff where we were eating came over to comment on it. It's a German pound cake recipe topped with a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar and homemade maple leaf roses! So Pinterest! So beautiful!

Wouldn't this make a lovely fall wedding cake, too? Don't you love birthday cake? I never will understand people who don't like desserts. Me? I always have room for dessert. Always.

Peach jam, two ways

After my last post, I did some more canning and even though it's no longer peach season and these definitely weren't grown locally, I tried out two incredible peach jam recipes that the world should know about. One is a sweet Salted Brown Sugar Peach Jam, best used on oven-warmed croissants or hearty slices of toast. Or, perhaps, just on a spoon. It's got a gooey caramel flavor, which should be enough information to tempt you into making a small batch of it right this moment.

The other tends towards the savory side and we've been using it in much the same way that we use our beloved tomato jam. Peach Jam with Sriracha. Can you wrap your mind around it? Peach jam with a healthy pour of sriracha cooked right in. As I was following the recipe, I got a little sweaty at how much sriracha it called for and how red the jam was turning. Was this going to melt my face off? The answer is no, your face is safe. It's so very unusual and delicious, and you absolutely must add it to your quirky home pantry. Which brings me to a recent revelation:

I'd rather make small batches of weird things all year round than spend a hot & humid weekend holed up in the kitchen putting up gallons of something boring.

For example, I like tomato sauce. I loved getting together with a friend and making a few quarts. But that was my limit. I didn't need to do much more. I'd rather have a pantry full of strange concoctions that really spice up my cooking, things I can't readily buy at the store. Because here's the secret: sometimes other people or companies are better at making things than I am. Not always! (See Quiches, Homemade.) But sometimes. And I'd rather just buy those. Hopefully from a smaller, local producer but even then, not always. 

Make weird recipes and put them in jars! That's the new theme of my home canning and preservation strategy.

Both recipes from Marisa McClellan's new book Preserving by the Pint:  Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. You can download the cute canning labels over at From Scratch Club.

Related
This year's preserving stockpile
Have you really not given tomato jam a try yet?

My stockpile

I'm not a major food preserver. I don't spend full weekends preserving tomatoes or putting up the summer's harvest. But I do a little bit, when it's fun. We split a CSA share with friends this year- so manageable! I don't know how we ever made it through an entire full share before, and we eat a lot of veggies. Even with the split share, we had some extra produce laying around just waiting to be shoved in jars and preserved.

And that's what I did. We decided years ago that while unconventional, tomato jam is an absolute staple for us and thus a priority for canning. I slather it on breakfast sandwiches, lay it out with cheese boards and top our beet and brown rice burgers with it. It's so so good. Lifechanging. A little sweet, a little spicy. Get into it. Grab a bunch of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half and cook them up. One of our friends gave us a ton of grape tomatoes from his garden and they produced the absolute best batch of jam.

I also made a few jars of tomato sauce, splitting a 25 lb box of seconds from Denison Farm with Lesley and Joe, who are our CSA buddies. We spent a few hours chopping up and cooking tomatoes one night after work, and each came away with a few quarts. Splendid!

Of course, I made pickles. I'm not an enthusiast yet, but I sure do like sneaking them in sandwiches. I prefer a crispy pickle, obviously, so I stuck with fridge pickles that didn't have to withstand a 10 minute dip in the hot water bath to become shelf-stable. I gave lacto-fermentation a try too, but wasn't supremely successful. I generally stick with a recipe from Marisa's Food in Jars for Garlic Dill Pickles.

And then! More cucumbers! There are only so many Hendrick's cucumber martinis you can make, so I canned up a few jars of sweet relish. I doubted my judgment on this one, because I've never purchased a jar of relish before in my life. It's never crossed my mind. As it turns out, relish is great! Spread some on sandwiches, (veggie) sausage, crackers. Phew! I used a recipe from the book Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More. (Pictured above, a jar of pickled accouterments served with Al's martini a few weekends ago in Boston. I cringe at the thought, but consider this a reminder that you can put weird pickled things in your drinks.)

Finally, I canned up a jar of marinated roasted peppers for the fun of it. I have no idea how they will be when we open the jar. They look mushy in there, don't they? I'll report back. I used Marisa's recipe from her new book Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces.

By the by, both of those books are on sale on Amazon for an insane $9 in case you are interested in scoring a killer deal! (Here & here.) Next up, I'm making some peach jam variations using (gasp!) out-of-season peaches I scored for a killer deal at Trader Joe's. Judge away. I will be coating my face with peach puree to spite you.

Related
Tomato jam, it will change your life
My tentative jump on the pickle bandwagon
Strawberry wrangling (I missed strawberry season this year)