The Year of Jam

Pear-Cardamom Butter

As I get older and the past starts to meld together into one amorphous blob, I find it helps to associate each year with the most important thing that happened. So when I think back to, say, 1999, and remember that that was the year I graduated from college, and remember that 2004 was the year I got married, not only are those dates placed in context again but I can place a whole host of less important events just by association. The funny thing is, though, that I can’t always predict what the most important event of a year will be until well after it’s over. For example, it should have been a foregone conclusion that 2008 would be remembered as the year we said goodbye to Scotland and moved to Seattle, but lately I’m beginning to have my doubts. Instead, there seems a pretty good chance that it will actually become known as the year I made jam out of everything that crossed my path.

It started in April with the mandarin jam. You remember that, right? I tasted a wonderful citrus jam in Calabria and despite only having the vaguest clue what I was doing, I simmered and skimmed and ladled until I had enough glistening orange jars on my shelf to make an Italian grandmother envious. Fast forward to late July when Manuel and I were down in Portland visiting my dad, and we decided to go berry-picking one morning. Whether it was the hot sun beating down on us or the temptation of all the heavily-laden vines responsible for clouding our judgment I can’t say, but we ended up at the weigh scale with thirty-two pounds of berries, far more than any of us had intended to pick. ‘Oh don’t worry,’ I told everyone, my nonchalance surprising even me, ‘I’ll just make jam out of whatever we can’t eat.’ And indeed, the next thing I knew I had spent eight hours in the kitchen and there were sixteen pints of jam cooling on the countertop: raspberry, boysenberry, raspberry-boysenberry, boysenberry-lime, and raspberry-nectarine. “Well, I don’t think we’ll be buying any jam for the next couple of years,” my stepmother laughed nervously.

Any sane person would have probably called it a day, but gripped by some kind of pioneer waste-not-want-not fever, I found myself unable to pass a fruit display without my mind starting to run rampant over the preserving possibilities. Before I knew it I had rounded up everyone again for a visit to the U-pick peach orchards, and after picking as many Red Havens as we could carry, once again I disappeared into the kitchen before anyone could stop me. The result, needless to say, was enough jars of peach jam to see multiple households through at least one long, peachless winter.

Next up, of course, were apples, and by now I was on a roll. The first crop of galas had scarcely hit the farmer’s market when I found myself hunched over the stove again, churning out four pints of smooth, spicy apple butter. I actually was intending to make twice as much, but I had to cut the fun short when I suffered a freak jamming accident, which happened when a walnut-sized missile of boiling apple butter met the back of my hand, leaving a large and extremely painful second-degree burn (mind you I was standing four feet away at the sink at the time!). “Does this mean you’re finally going to stop making jam?” Manuel asked balefully, his eyes traveling from the overflowing pantry to my red, swollen hand. Smiling as brightly as I could through the pain, I offered him a deal: if he didn’t like what I made next, I wouldn’t preserve another thing for the rest of the year.

Luckily, though, I’d saved the best for last. I can’t say for sure whether it was thanks to the accumulated expertise of half a year of intensive jam making or just a little dumb luck, but as soon as that burn healed I whipped out a pot of pear-cardamom butter that blows every other jam I’ve made out of the water. It is SO good, I haven’t yet brought myself to give a single jar away. Even Manuel agrees; he’s plowed through two and a half jars already, spreading it on cream cheese-covered bread topped with a pinch of maldon salt. I think its simplicity is its key; with nothing but pears, lemon juice and a touch of cardamom, each of the flavors has the chance to shine, and really, if you ever needed proof that pears and cardamom have the same kind of natural affinity as, say, apples and cinnamon or tomatoes and basil, here you have it. The stuff is absolutely incredible on toast and yogurt, and if you think you’ve ever met a better match for a piece of sharp white cheddar after dinner, think again. Wars have been fought over things less delicious.

Oh dear, I think I need to make another batch.

Pear-Cardamom Butter

I’ve called for Bartletts here, since that’s what I used, but I imagine you could use just about any juicy, flavorful variety of pear. Just wait until they’re fragrant and barely yielding to the touch to get the best flavor and texture. And if you have a way to grind your own cardamom now is the time to do so; pre-ground loses its fragrance so fast it’s not even funny. If all you have is pre-ground, you may need to up the amount; taste the butter when it’s almost done and see what you think, adding a bit more if the flavor needs a boost. p.s. For an intro to fruit butters, have a look at this post.

Yield: 5-6 (8oz/250ml) jars

6 pounds (2.75kg) ripe but still firm Bartlett pears (about 10-12 pears)
3 cups (600g) sugar
6 tablespoons (90ml) lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

Heat the oven to 225F/105C and place your jars (not the lids) inside. Wash the lids with very hot water and let them dry on a clean towel.

Peel and core the pears, and cut them into large chunks. Put them in a large nonreactive bowl with the sugar and let macerate for at least 2 hours. They should expel a lot of juice.

Pour the pears and their liquid into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the lemon juice and cardamom. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. With a slotted spoon, skim away any scum that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until the pears are completely soft and starting to fall apart. Remove from the heat and with a hand blender (or in a normal blender with the lid clamped down tightly), blend the mixture (in batches, if necessary) until smooth.

Return the pot to the heat and allow the mixture to simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until the butter reduces to a thick sauce, about 2 hours. It will never really ‘set’ like normal jam; to judge its consistency chill a saucer in the freezer and drop a teaspoon of hot butter on it. When it’s as thick and spreadable as you like, take it off the heat.

Pour into your hot jars, seal tightly and process according to your preferred canning method. For tips, see here.

42 thoughts on “The Year of Jam

  1. Of course I love this post since I’m in my second year of professional jamming. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It all started innocently enough when I cooked on a farm for the summer and, like you, made jam out of everything that crossed my path. It is an addictive hobby- be careful or you may end up with a new career! (I entered my URL even though my website won’t be live for a few more weeks in case you want to check out what I do.)

  2. I have never done this before. But Melissa, you are so convincing! I think I will finally try my hand at jam making, and this recipe will be my first.

  3. I am up at this ungodly hour((8am, athough the clocks went back last night, so really its 9), because I have 6 pounds of brambles from my garden in the freezer, and something needs to be done!You know, I made jam with my nana and my mum, and I have never ‘canned'(i use ‘ ‘ because I don’t think it would be called canning in Scotland if people bothered to do it) anything. Most people I know don’t either, we just use a warm jar and put a disc of paper on top of it, and it lasts for months. I know that the reasoning behind it is to kill germs that might develop into mold at some point, but I don’t know if I will ever actually can anything, I am too lazy!

  4. Love, love, love the combination of cardamom with pears; truth be told, cardamom with apples and plums are also combinations that I adore this time of year. I have always been wary of true canning, I have no idea why, and always just done "refrigerator jams" and chutneys. This looks so delicious that I might have to forgo my fear and put up a big batch.

  5. I’ve been making jam like crazy this year as well. I made gingerbread pear butter, spicy apple butter, elderberry jelly, blueberry preserves, wild blackberry & black raspberry jelly and some mulled apple cider jelly. I can’t wait for all the delicious homemade bread with jam. YUM YUM. I’ll have to try this recipe next year when pears are in season.

  6. I am SO glad you are back to blogging — I had stopped checking the site sometime in mid-September because my life got crazy, but thought to check today, and there you are. Considering I read all your archives in under a week earlier this year, it’s a treat to know you are blogging again. Best wishes on settling in and enjoying all the jam and bounty of Seattle. On the spice rack topic – you are so right. No spice rack is ever enough for cooks. I solved my own spice bowl issue (yes, I had one too :)) by taking a tip from Kim of A Mighty Appetite and using the inside of the freezer door. Mine has two shelves that are fairly deep, and I have been able to fit a tremendous number of spices. Oh, and Kim is at She just moved to your side of the world in fact ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. This post just tickles me. I’m on my 4th year or so of making pear butter with cardamom and it’s decidedly the thing I can that demands the most requests. Sometimes I use a vanilla bean too, and I always use a nice sweetish Riesling. Does anything make the house smell as good? I usually pick up a whole box of pears for the project and end up thanking my lucky stars that I have a good food mill. You might want to try just skipping the peeling and seeding step in favor of the mill. If I had to peel and seed 35 lbs of pears, I would go nuts. Thank you for a wonderful Sunday morning read.

  8. Mmm. That looks so good. I have never canned anything before and I’m feeling intimidated. Perhaps this recipe will give me the courage to try something new! Thanks!

  9. Just recently stumbled upon your blog and I’m sorry it didn’t happen sooner. Great writing!Never heard of fruit butter before, but will definitely try it out in the not too distant future – sounds like pure deliciousness…

  10. Sounds like a wonderful jam. I made my first jams this year. They were freezer jams made from all the zucchini I had this year.

  11. Um, next time you post something enticing like this, could you remind me that I don’t actually own a pot large enough to hold 6 lbs of pears? Please?It’ll cook down, right?

  12. Pear butter is incredible – with cardamom, oh – that’s gotta’ be good. My wife found some very fragrant quince growing nearby – probably leftover from one of the old homesteads. Daughter made some jam from it and should be bringing a jar over this week. If it tastes like it smells – wow. I probably shouldn’t tell you this either – the woods around you are filled with a couple different types of red and black huckleberry. I made a VERY small batch from some in my backyard last week – it’s already gone. Then there’s the elusive salmonberry …Sometimes it’s hard to think of your home town as having anything "exotic" or "adventurous," but some of the native flavors you can find over here on the peninsula can be quite a surprising and pleasant challenge. Now that your back I hope you can sneak a few of them into your wonderful cooking, and writing. Don’t talk them up too much though – we don’t want too many people moving here – and even after a day like today, just keep telling everyone it rains here ALL THE TIME!(smiling) Corey

  13. I so understand you Melissa! I go through phases of jam making myslef, although we don;t eat jam at all. They make great presents though and I enjoy the process. I think I will make this butter for my mother in law. She is Finnish and loves cardamom. Thanks for sharing….

  14. Well, this is the kind of post I just have to comment on, beautifully written, funny and a recipe so tempting that I want to make it right now.

  15. lovely.could you post your recipe for apple butter?Chiquita, I basically used this recipe, only I made it smooth and added a few pinches of cinnamon, cloves and mace. Actually, more than a few pinches – next time I’ll be a bit more light-handed.

  16. Melissa,I was so amused to read your post on pear butter– I’ve had a similar enthusiasm for fruit in cans lately and just wrote about it on my blog as well! I hadn’t thought of adding cardamon– but I certainly will next time (my canning spice of the moment is star anise, and vanilla bean). Thanks for the encouragement!cheers, jenny

  17. Gracious! I don’t even really CARE for cardamom, but your beautiful story about this jam may entice me to try this recipe anyways.

  18. Don’t question it. Clearly you were destined to make beautiful jam. Just keep on jammin’ (okay … that’s lame … I know …)

  19. I think I may try this with some seckel pears, they are naturally a little sweeter so i probably would cut back on the amount of Sugar. I’ll let you know how it works!

  20. Having spent the whole summer in Portland making jam, preserves, jelly, fruit in syrup, applesauce, fruit juices, cider, etc, I love hearing about others who have had similar obsessions. I know exactly what you mean re: doing u-pick in portland. I went out for an hour to get some blueberries and returned home with 15 pounds. Delish! The farms around here make me so happy!One tip: try pomona’s universal pectin. (available online or at local natural grocery stores like New Seasons in Portland.) It’s not like ball or sure-jell as it doesn’t need to be boiled or cooked for a certain amount of time to set and I’ve had brilliant results using it for Asian Pear with Vanilla Jam. You get a good set without having to overcook your fruit, hence a fresher fruit flavor.

  21. A lovely post. It makes me think about how I must do something with those apples. There are also some wierd looking fruits developing on a tree that looks like a pear but the fruits are round. I have to do some more research into this. Thank you for the inspiration!

  22. Hello,We bumped into your blog and we really liked it – great recipes YUM!!! YUM!!!.We would like to add it to the We would be delighted if you could add your blog to Petitchef so that our users can, as us,enjoy your recipes. Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already membersand benefit from their exposure on (more than 30 000 visitors per day) To add your site to the Ptitchef family you can use or just go to and click on "Add your site" Best regards, Octรก

  23. I’ve always wanted to make jam but have never taken the leap. I’m inspired. I thank you. And I was so inspired by your last post on your spice "rack" that I’ve commissioned my mom (who’s just taken up wood working… cool, right?) to make a fabulous wall-mounted rack that hold those cute little tins. So stoked. For real, thanks for the inspiration and for saving my spice madness.

  24. I made this this weekend, the pear cardamom butter, and it is lovely. It began as a rather insipid beige color, but I persisted and it finally reached that amber glow, buttery and spicy. Very very nice.

  25. Melissa: Thanks for this incredible recipe! As good as it sounds, the end result is so much better it defies description.I used 7-8 crushed whole cardamom pods in with the maceration from the beginning and then added ground cardamom later as needed. If you can get whole pods, they really do have a much brighter, pungent flavor than ground. (buy a bunch and store in the freezer)As another poster suggested, I skipped the peeling/coring and simply put the whole thing through a food mill after the first cooking to remove the skins, seeds and cardamom pod remnants. I think that was a time-saver.I ate an entire jar in two days: over greek yogurt, spread on toast, and every other possible way. OK, I even ate it straight from the jar with a spoon (I dare anyone who has actually made this to say they haven’t done the same) <grin>A tip for those of us who find only rock-hard, unripe pears:: put them into a brown paper bag with a few bananas to speed things along. Sometimes it takes 4-5 days, but be patient it will happen!

  26. I’ve made your Tangerine Jam three times since you posted that recipe and it’s now our favorite. Thanks for giving us this new one!

  27. Amen, sister. Jamming can become a total obsession. I see fruit in season and get an overwhelming urge to simmer it with large amounts of sugar. I wanted to recommend an incredible book, "Mes Confitures: the James and Jellies of Christine Ferber", which has become a point of departure for many of my jamming adventures. Enjoy everyone.

  28. I have been fixated on June Taylor’s pear vanilla butter for quite some time. Can’t get over it. Just ordered some more, in fact. But pear and cardamom…that opens my mind to new possibilities. You may have seduced me into trying my hand at making jam for the first time. Thanks!

  29. I’ve been thinking about making this butter ever since we moved to our house last summer and ‘inherited’ two pear trees with the property. I just finished a ‘test’ batch using half the recipe. I slowly simmered the butter for 1.5 hrs until I was happy with the consistency – it thickened beautifully. However, the color was anything but orange or amber, like your photo. My final butter turned out greenish-grayish and I wasn’t sure if I should continue to cook it until it turns orange-y. I was hoping to make all 45lbs. of Bartlett pears into this butter and give away as Christmas gifts but I’m not sure if this is the color I should be expecting.I also find the jam slightly on the sweet side, do you reckon I can reduce the sugar ever so slightly without affecting long term storage? I admit the combination of pear and cardamom is absolutely divine. Melissa, you are pure genius ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. Hi Natalie – Hmm, I don’t really know what to say, apart from the fact that in real life my butter was more yellowish-tan than orange. Not sure why you’d be getting something greenish, but I suspect it’s just up to variation in the fruit. In any case, I wouldn’t worry about the color too much – it’s the flavor that counts! And yes, if you find it too sweet I don’t see why you couldn’t decrease the sugar a little, or alternatively increase the lemon juice to balance it.

  31. Thank you for your response, Melissa! I did another test patch this afternoon, only this time I used a stainless steel pot instead of my Calphalon stockpot – my husband thought it might have been the coating on the Calphalon pot that imparted the grayish color. But much to our surprise, the color of the new batch remained the same. Maybe it is the variety of pears after all, as you suggested.Btw, I didn’t change the sugar quantity in the second batch. The butter tasted just fine the next day when it was at room temperature or cold. Regardless of color, the butter is delish! I’m going to use the remaining pears to make more butter and give it away this Christmas. I’m thinking of making the tangerine jam as well – maybe use grapefruit? Both jams sound like the perfect pairing for my homemade pain d’epices. Thank you for yet another wonderful recipe!

  32. My batch just came out of the canner. I used red bartlett pears, and cooked them with the skins on then ran them through the food mill. The red skins gave the puree a beautiful rosy color, which deepened into a gorgeous amber. I can’t wait to taste it!

  33. This is the second time I’ve made this recipe after discovering it last year. what a great way to use the last of the season’s pears! The recipe is a gem, it works every time. Today I added just a bit of lavender in with my cardamom. Looks and tastes wonderful. Now if only I can figure out canning —

  34. I made this using the pears from my trees (in NW Italy), and it was AMAZING. I don't usually like pears so much, but I can't stop eating this!

Comments are closed.