Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pearing Sweet and Sour

When I picked up a few pounds of Bartlett pears at the farmers' market last Saturday, I didn't have a clear idea what I might do with them.

There weren't really enough of them to warrant canning them in halves with a light syrup poured over the top. I had thought that it might be nice to try a pear jam again, or perhaps a pear butter, but neither idea proclaimed itself to be IT.

But as I plowed through this very busy week, addressing the need to handle the tomatoes first, and then the peppers, the pears got pushed to the side, and with their usual stealth, they proceeded to ripen a little more just by sitting on the plate.

When I picked one up last evening, I knew I'd better do something with the pears right away, so when I came home from work today, I stepped into the kitchen and started making pear-cardamom chutney.

Years ago, when I visited the charming Pixie in Ann Arbor, we made the requisite pilgrimage to Zingerman's. Though my chief objective in going there was to sample and buy a number of exquisite cheeses, I also browsed the shelves of specialty items. I came across a jar of pear-cardamom chutney, and, being intrigued by the combination, I bought it and took it home to enjoy.

It was marvelous! The sweetness, the spice, and the tang all worked together to please the palate, and it went beautifully with every Indian dish I knew how to cook. All too soon, the jar emptied, and I knew I had to come up with something else.

I tried my own version, then, based on a recipe using a completely different fruit. And while it was good, it just wasn't quite what I wanted. I ate it, of course, but it has taken me far longer to devour my own chutney than the original jar. (I think there's still a jar of my first attempt in the fridge -- still sealed.)

But the idea has lingered in my mind to try, try again, and when one Ethicurean reader asked after my peach post if I had tried peach chutney, the idea came to mind again. I pulled a couple of recipes from a quick Google search and took them home, resolved to try one or the other this evening.

As I talked with the Gentleman on the phone (I do love when my friends keep me company while I cook!), I peeled and cored the pears, chopping them and setting them on the stove over low heat to simmer until tender. Then I combined the vinegar and a myriad of spices to mix with the pears and a honey-sweetened syrup, allowing it all to bubble and boil until it reached the desired thickness.

When I thought it was done, I ladled the rich brown chutney, studded with cloves and cardamom pods and golden raisins, into a pair of sterilized jars and sealed them. The recipe didn't suggest running them through a hot water bath, presumably because of the acidity of the vinegar, but I do think that, to be on the safe side, I will use the one jar soon and set the other in the freezer for later.

When I finally get back around to making an Indian dinner with the makhani sauce I made the other evening, I think I will enjoy having a dollop of this chutney on the side, adding a bit of sweet and sour to the meal.

And if I'm tempted again by pears at the market, I'll just have to think of something else to cook!

Pear-Cardamom Chutney

I based this recipe on the Golden Pear Chutney adapted from Lowcountry Cooking by John Martin Taylor (and found on Public Radio's Splendid Table web site). Most of the recipes for pear chutney that I found contained a combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, but since I wanted cardamom to predominate, I rearranged the flavors accordingly. Enjoy this with any Indian meal, especially the creamy dishes or as a nice little snack on toast.

1 pound underripe pears, peeled, cored, chopped
1/2 c honey
1 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 c chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp cardamom pods
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp whole cloves
dash of black pepper
1/4 c golden raisins
1/4 c thinly sliced or minced onion
1 small hot pepper, seeded and minced (optional)

In nonreactive saucepan, cook pears in water until they are just tender. Strain over a bowl, return the cooking liquid to the saucepan, add the honey, and boil until you have a thickened syrup, about 10 minutes.

Mix all other ingredients with the cooked pears. When syrup is done, add pear mixture and cook until volume is reduced by a third to a half. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Refrigerate or freeze (when fully cooled).

Makes 1 1/2 pints



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