Pickled pears

Christmas, for us, means making stuff to give to friends and family.  This is a lovely easy thing to make, and goes really well with cheese or cured meats.

  • about 16 small-ish firm pears (Conference are good), peeled, with stalks left on
  • 1 litre white wine vinegar
  • 0.5 litres water
  • 500g sugar (granulated)
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • The zest of 1 lemon, peeled in large strips
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

 

Boil up the water, vinegar, sugar and spices in a large pan with a lid. Make sure it’s a stainless steel or other non-reactive pan, or the vinegar will create pits in the surface!

Put the pears into the hot liquid, turn the heat down to a simmer, clap the lid on and leave the pears to poach for about 20 minutes.  Take the pears out of the liquid and put them somewhere warm.  Turn up the heat under the poaching liquid and boil it for about 10 minutes until it has reduced a bit and gone syrupy.

Divide the poached pears between 4 large-ish wide necked jars, previously sterilised.  Pour the reduced cooking liquid over the pears, ensuring that each jar gets its share of the whole spices.  If you want you can add a sprig of fresh rosemary to each jar – it looks pretty and adds a herby flavour.  Seal the jars with vinegar-proof lids – either use parfait jars (the ones with rubber seals and metal clips), or proper Kilner jars, or improvise with wide-necked pickle jars and seal them with greaseproof circles and plastic-coated jar lids.

These pickled pears can keep for up to 6 months unopened in a dark cupboard.  Once you do open a jar, keep it in the fridge and use up within two weeks.

Dried fruit chutney

A fabulous Christmassy chutney which requires patience and a good knife, or if you have no patience, a food processor.

  • 250g dried apricots – the ready to eat kind
  • 300g dried dates
  • 250g semi-dried figs
  • 100g raisins
  • 450g red onions
  • 570ml cider vinegar
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 level dessertspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 450g light brown sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground allspice

Chop the dried fruits and onions finely – either with large amounts of patience and a sharp knife, or bung them into a food processor and whizz them up.  Put the cider vinegar in a large pan with the salt, ginger, sugar and allspice, and bring them to the boil.  Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir in all the fruit and onions.  Leave it on a low-ish heat, stir it occasionally, and in about an hour or maybe a bit longer you’ll have a pan of lovely chutney.  You can tell when it’s done if you draw a spoon across the surface to make a channel, and the channel stays there and doesn’t fill up with vinegar.

Take off the heat and put into warmed sterilised jars.  Do yourself a favour and keep some wide-necked ones handy; they’re much easier to fill!  Seal with vinegar-proof lids (i.e. plastic-covered ones, or use greaseproof circles).  This tastes better after maturing in a dark cupboard for a few weeks.

Cranberry relish

Christmas preparations continue apace. Today we made cranberry relish, almost as easy as going to the shop and buying a jar.

  • 350g fresh cranberries
  • Juice and zest of one orange
  • 75g sugar
  • half a cinnamon stick
  • half a teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons of Mirto di Sardegna (black myrtle liqueur from Italy)

Mirto di Sardegna is pretty rare but we happened to have some that we brought back from Italy as a holiday souvenir.  You can substitute port, crème de cassis, or even sloe gin – anything that’s got a dark fruity alcoholic tang. If you don’t fancy adding alcohol, then add more orange juice or a splash of water.

Put all the ingredients in a pan and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until all the berries have burst. Take off the heat and stir in the alcohol. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, in a covered bowl. It can also be frozen – make sure to defrost it thoroughly for 24 hours before using.