One of my favorite quick meals is banh mi at Huang Lan Sandwiches in South Sacramento. (#7 - Grilled Pork - $3!) These are the freshest, most flavorful and most affordable sandwiches in town. These sandwiches are the sole reason I learned to eat jalapenos! I've learned to love the heat! They are hot, sweet, sour, creamy, crunchy, fresh and savory - practically every flavor at once. Add a Vietnamese iced coffee and you have a very nearly perfect meal.
Whenever I visit Huang Lan, I check to see if there are bags of produce hanging around. I think that some family members must have fruit trees. They don't usually sell produce, but every now and then there are fruity treasures tied up in plastic bags and sold at rediculous prices. I've scored kumquats, persimmons, Asian pears and now, Bartlett pears. I bought two plastic bags stuffed with pears for $1.75 per bag. I didn't weigh them, but I'm thinking they were close to 8 lbs. total. I can't know how these pears were raised, but they were local and they were bumpy and flawed enough to make me think no one was fussing over them too much.
I've had a recipe for pear and cardamom jam on my favorites list since last year. I figured this was my big chance. As usual, this recipe is a combination of several that I read. My sniffer told me to up the ante on the lemon, and I'm glad I did. The subtle sweetness of the pears is a perfect back drop for the lemon high note. The fragrant cardamom comes through at the finish. It is delicious with mild cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta. I think it would make a superb cheese cake topping.
Three out of three tasters agree - eye-rollingly good.*
I'm excited that the pear and apple seasons are just getting started. I have become much more efficient at processing these kinds of fruits. For this jam, I peeled the pears and used my V-Slicer to slice strips of pear right off the core. It went super fast! I then ran my knife through the pear sticks in the opposite direction and came out with a nice uniform dice. I don't think I will core and slice a pear or apple again!
Pear, Lemon and Cardamom Jam
4 lbs. of peeled and chopped pears
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
4 cups sugar
6 cardamom pods
Prepare boiling water bath, jars and lids. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.
Combine the pears, lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a large pot. Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and pound them lightly to open the pods and release the seeds. Place the pods and seeds in a wire mesh tea ball or in a sachet made out of cheese cloth. Add the cardamom packet to the fruit. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally. When the jam begins to thicken and approach 220 degrees, begin to test by scooping a small amount onto one of the frozen spoons. Place the spoon back in the freezer until no longer hot but not cold. If it mounds up and does not run easily off the spoon, it is done. I've also learned to taste the jam for the mouth feel. I've come to like a softer set and rarely progress to a jam that sets up as a solid.
When the jam has thickened to your liking, remove the cardamom packet. Remove the pot from the heat and skim any foam. Carefully ladle into hot, prepared jars. Leave 1/4 inch head space. Check for bubbles and use a bamboo skewer or chopstick to release the trapped air. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the jars to remain in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes then carefully remove to a towel lined tray. Allow to come to cool overnight before labeling for storage.
Makes 3 pints.
*One of the tasters was me.