Musical pairing – Winter Song by Sara Bareilles (with Ingrid Michaelson)
As a child, I remember my mother canning tomatoes, making grape juice in jars, putting up pickles, freezing green beans and corn and making jams; in fact most families did because we lived in a rural town surrounded by the Blue mountains and farms. Everyone gardened during the summer months and fruits and vegetables were seasonal – meaning that apples were in the stores in the fall and strawberries were in the produce aisles during the summer – ‘year-round’ produce wasn’t available. So we canned or preserved what we could get our hands on while it was in season.
I also remember being at once terrified of the basement pantry and awed by it at the same time; terrified because I have an overactive imagination and had convinced myself that someone was hiding in a dark corner to capture me and hold me hostage . . . for exactly what I have no idea because we didn’t have any money . . . or maybe those thoughts came from watching The Avengers and I fancied myself an Emma Peel in her oh-so-cool black leather with hair that flipped up on the ends . . .
I was completely smittened by the rows and rows of jars filled with every color imaginable: deep-purple grape juice, forest-green cucumbers, ruby-red beets, cream-colored apple chunks speckled with cinnamon . . . and then there were the Christmas green and red apple rings and pear halves . . . those were a sight to behold. Mom would put a few drops of red or green food coloring in the jars when she first packed them with fruit and then added hot syrup. I waited for what seemed like an eternity until those fruits turned color . . . usually around the holidays. Oh the waiting was unbearable at times and I remember standing in that basement corner staring at those jars willing them to turn color – removing a jar and giving a gentle shake to see if the fruit had changed color and then gingerly placing that jar back in its place . . . until the next day when I would repeat the ritual again. I imagined that the red apple rings would taste like cherry or strawberry and the green pear halves would taste like mint . . . and I have no idea where that came from because no one ever indicated it would be so.
I did a bit of preserving back in the day so when I came across this recipe in the December issue of Food & Wine magazine for Pear Jam with Vanilla Bean, I wanted to see if I still remembered the process – and yes I do! The jam comes together very quickly once you’ve marinated the pears overnight and relies only on it’s natural pectin to thicken, so additional powdered pectin isn’t necessary. The perfume of vanilla plays nicely against the sweet pear and will make nice holiday gifts . . . but I’m making another batch for me and The Professor – it’s perfect on English muffins!