Monday, November 19, 2012

Pear Butter

About a month ago my husband's boss gave us a big sack of pears off his trees, about 10 or 12 pounds worth. They sat for quite a while in the garage fridge waiting for me to figure out what to do with them.

I decided to use up some of them to make pear butter.

I used the recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. They have a recipe for peach butter, with a pear butter variation in the footnotes. They also have a variation that uses amaretto liqueur, which sounds delicious, but I decided to go with regular pear butter for my first time.

The recipe called for "7 lbs. of pears, peeled, cored, and chopped." What annoys me about these sorts of recipes is that they don't tell you if it's 7 lbs. before or after you peel and core them! I'd much prefer if they told me how much to have after they are peeled and cored. Much more precise that way. I mean, how do they know how much peel or core you're removing?

So I started peeling and coring and chopping them, weighing them as I went, until I got to about 5 lbs., which started to make my pot look quite full. I decided they probably meant weight before peeling and coring, so I stopped there.

I still have plenty of pears to use for other things.

First the pears are cooked in half a cup of water, and the juice and zest of one lemon. Instead of water I used apple cider. Thought it would make it tastier that way.

Once they are soft, you're supposed to puree them. After trying to puree hot soup in a blender before and getting a nasty surprise, I decided to use the stick blender this time. This actually turned out to be harder than I thought. I think stick blenders work well on more liquidy stuff, but it was a pain getting all the chunks worked out of these pears.

After pureeing, I added the 4 cups of sugar, juice and zest of 1 orange, and 1 tsp. (approximately, since I grate it myself) of nutmeg. Then comes the part where you cook it and cook it and cook it until it thickens. Same as with the pumpkin butter, this took a really really long time. I actually ran out of time, had to stop, put it in the fridge, and finish it off on another day.

Finally, it was done, at least to my satisfaction. You can see here it got much darker in color, I'm guessing due to caramelization. Next I loaded it up into sterilized jars and canned it in my steam canner.

As usual, it seems every time I can things, I end up with extra jars. I managed to fill 10 jelly jars instead of 8 like the recipe said. I always sterilize an extra two jars because of this. I really don't know why it always ends up that way.

Here is the finished product. I sent one jar back with my husband to give to his boss in return for giving us the pears. As with the pumpkin butter, my favorite thing to do with this stuff is mix it into oatmeal. It has a nice flavor with the citrus peels and nutmeg. Next time I get a huge load of pears, I'll try the amaretto variation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Roadside Diner for Butterflies

Hey migrating monarchs! Eat at Amanda's! I've got the most delicious Esparanza flowers for you!

Now that cold weather is setting in it's time to fuel up for that long flight down to Mexico. Be sure to stop by and fuel up. Here are some pictures of one of my satisfied customers from Saturday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New Fruit Trees and a New Butterfly

A couple of weeks ago we started planting fruit trees in the ground here at our new house. Fall and winter is a good time to plant fruit trees here in Texas, and really any perennials. Since summer is our most stressful season for plants, it gives them the maximum amount of time to establish a good root system before the heat sets in.

I'm still not sure about all the fruit trees I'll end up planting. I have dreams of homegrown oranges, apples, pears, peaches, and plums, but our space is limited. There are few places on our property where fruit trees could grow without the competition from our numerous live oaks, and in a contest against a mighty oak, a puny dwarf fruit tree doesn't have much of a chance.

I already had a Meyer Lemon and Key Lime in a pot, then my father-in-law gave us a fig tree he grew from a cutting from the fig tree in his own yard. Then my husband bought us a small pomegranate tree from a local nursery.

We finally decided to plant them in the front yard, right along the street. The front yard has a mott of live oaks, but they're nearer the house, leaving a sunny strip right up front. And fruit trees are attractive, right? They should make fine front-yard plants!

I think we should cut back the oaks limbs a little bit. A couple of them stretch over very close to the fruit trees, but cutting them off shouldn't hurt the oak trees too much. A little bit of shade might actually be beneficial in this climate, but for the most part they're in the sun. There should be plenty of sun coming in from the street side (which is where I was standing when I took this picture).

Here's the pomegranate with a tomato cage around it to protect it from deer. It's a Wonderful, which is the variety they commonly sell in stores. I considered looking for a more unusual variety, but that was the only kind the nursery had. We paid $7 for it, and considering that pomegranates cost $3 or $4 each at the store, I think it was a good investment.

Here's the fig tree, without a cage, which turned out to be a bad idea, because I just checked on it this morning, and it looks like the deer might have sampled it. I thought fig leaves would have some kind of latex substance (like other members of the genus Ficus) that would deter deer, but it's only got two leaves left now. However, the leaves that got torn off are laying on the ground, so either I'm wrong and it wasn't deer after all, or they spit the leaves out. I'm sure it will grow back, but in the meantime, I should get a cage for it too.

The last tree we planted is the Meyer Lemon tree. We haven't planted the Key Lime yet, but plan to. No cage, because I'm sure deer wouldn't like the strong-smelling citrus leaves. Except, as I was watering the tree here, I noticed someone who does!

On one of the leaves I saw what at first glance looked like a great big bird poop, but upon closer inspection...

It's actually a caterpillar! A caterpillar trying to look like bird poop! Turns out it's a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar, one of the most impressive butterfly species around here. Very appropriate during the Butterfly Moon. Their host species are any members of the Citrus family, including some native trees that are common around here, like Wafer Ash and Tickle-tongue, but obviously they like the domesticated Citrus species as well. I decided to leave the caterpillar be. My lemon tree is very healthy, and can probably spare a few leaves for such a cool butterfly. It's funny how something so beautiful can grow from something that looks like poop!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Key Lime Pie with Homegrown Limes

Key Lime Pie doesn't exactly scream Autumn to me, but since my potted key lime tree has had a bumper crop this year, when facing a decision on what pie to bring to a recent Samhain potluck, I decided it was a good opportunity to use up these limes and make something I haven't made before.

Here are the limes I picked off my tree. The limes most Americans are used to are Persian Limes, the big green ones. Key Limes are also known as Mexican Limes, and are golf-ball sized with more aromatic flavor. They also turn yellow if you let them fully ripen on the tree! I've had my tree in a pot for several years, but I'll probably plant it in the ground soon, so it can get even bigger.

I ended up getting almost enough juice for a whole pie, only needing to top it off with less than a quarter cup of store bought lime juice. Squeezing all those little limes was a bit of a pain, though.

I based my recipe off a recipe for Easy Key Lime Pie I got off, but with some tweaks suggested by the comments, using two cans of milk instead of one, four egg yolks instead of five, and a full cup of lime juice. I was pressed for time, so I didn't make my own crust and used a store-bought one.

Key lime pie is an amazingly simple recipe, using only three ingredients in the filling: lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk. It was invented in Florida before refrigeration was common, hence using canned milk, eggs that were presumably freshly laid by the backyard chickens, and freshly picked limes off the local trees, all things that don't need to be refrigerated! Originally it wasn't even baked. The acid from the lime juice made the eggs set up. Today it's baked, but only for a short amount of time.

Here is the finished pie. I only made one mistake, and that was to throw in the zest of my limes along with the juice. That made it have little chunks in it, and I think I would have liked it better if the filling was completely smooth. Next time I'll leave out the lime zest, but other than that it was very good. The filling set up perfectly, and it was nice and tart. It's the kind of dessert for people who like things like Sweet Tarts and Sour Patch Kids.

Key Lime Pie
  • 1 deep dish graham cracker crust (either homemade or store-bought)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 (14 ounce cans) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup key lime juice
Whisk the egg yolks, milk, and lime juice together until smooth. Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Chill completely before serving. Garnish with whipped cream if desired. Easy as pie!