Slow Cooker Cinnamon Pear Butter

People, I had pears. Lots of them.

And this bounty of pears had been bestowed on my school by one of the families who had oodles of fruit. He donated much of his fruit to Urban Farmers, which in turn donates the food to food banks and other organizations that will accept fresh fruit for those who need it. What he didn't hand over to these organizations, he dropped off in our faculty lounge. And so I packed a bag of under-ripe pears, pears that were (quite frankly) as hard as baseballs, and I brought them home, unsure of what to do with them.

I spent a Saturday morning thumbing through cookbooks. Should I make a crisp? What about a chutney? And then I alighted on Marissa McClellan's recipe for slow-cooker pear butter, and it seemed the perfect solution for a rainy weekend. And you all know how I feel about a rainy weekend. (Hint: Love.) 

You may know McClellan from her jaunty blog Food in Jars, or from her three wonderful cookbooks, of which I am the proud owner of two. I am particularly fond of this cookbook, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars, because no matter how you slice or dice it, canning takes either a lot of sugar or a lot of acid (or a lot of both). Sometimes I just want to step away from all of that white sugar. Enter McClellan's foray into more natural sweetness: coconut sugar, maple syrup, maple sugar, dried fruit, honey, fruit juices, and agave all make appearances here. I know that these are still sugars, but it just feels good to diversify away from granulated white sugar from time to time.

That said, I enjoyed spending the late morning and early afternoon tucking pounds of pears into the slow cooker vessel, letting them sweat and bubble until they become a mass of sticky goo, mixing in sweet maple syrup, adding cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger--what autumnal activities. What bounty.

And then I was left with jars of pear butter, so I can pass them on to family and friends--presuming I don't eat them all first--slathered on toast or swirled with some crunchy granola into yogurt or just hoisted into my mouth with a spoon.  

I think we know how this is going to end.

Slow Cooker Cinnamon Pear Butter

5-8 1/2 pint jars

4 pounds pears (Bartlett or Bosc), cored and chopped
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp freshly chopped ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Place the chopped pears in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 1 hour.

2. Prop open the slow cooker lid with a wooden spoon or a chopstick. Cook on low for an additional 5-7 hours. At hour 4, either use an immersion blender or remove the pears and puree in a blender to desired consistency. (If you use a blender, return the pears to the pot for 1-3 more hours). 

3.  In the final hour of cooking, add the maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the pot. Continue to cook down to evaporate most of the water (feel free to take the lid off of the slow cooker or turn to high.  However, if you turn the cooker to high, stay nearby so you can stir often and ensure the pears do not burn).

4.  Prepare your jars. (See below: To Sterilize the Jars). When the butter has reached your desired consistency, turn the slow cooker off and ladle the butter into the prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling bath for 15 minutes (See below: To Seal the Jars).   

To Sterilize the Jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the strawberry jam (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To Seal the Jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the butter (or any other product). Leave about 1/2 inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the butter, cook for 15 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be used, just do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.


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