I've been planning to make pumpkin butter this year but wanted it to be a little different -- a little lighter and fruitier, but with the same undeniable taste of fall. My pear-pumpkin butter turned into a two-day process, but it was time well spent.
I hadn't intended for this to get so involved, but when I asked Tim to bring me two small pumpkins from the farmer's market I expected little orange globes and not the voluptuous baking variety he delivered. The 8-pound orb I used had a dull exterior but bright flesh that filled the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma. I roasted it into tender submission.
Tim helped me peel and core about 6 1/2 pounds of firm pears, a mix of green D'anjou and red Bosc, chosen because they happened to be the varieties on sale. I reserved the trimmings to make pear stock for jelly; more about that later. The chopped pears joined the pumpkin pulp in a stock pot -- use your biggest one with a heavy bottom -- along with a quart each of pear nectar and water, spices and sugar. The rest takes patience and a lot of time, but a lot of that time is unattended. Indeed, I slept through much of it. I didn't even both with a food mill, opting instead to buzz the brew with a stick blender.
Because the process of making fruit butter is more forgiving than that of jam or jelly, consider the directions below more a recommendation than a carved-in-stone recipe. And have lot of jars ready because it will reward you with plenty to savor and share.
1 8 lb. baking pumpkin
6 1/2 lbs. pears
1 cup cider vinegar, divided
1 cup water, divided
1 quart pear nectar or juice (such as Loozo)
1 quart water
1 tsp. fresh ground cardamon (about 20 pods)
1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1-2 vanilla pods
3 cups sugar, divided
2 cups brown sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds; reserve to roast later. Cut each half into four pieces and arrange in two baking dishes. Pour 1 cup of cider vinegar and 1 cup of water into measuring cup; distribute evenly over pumpkin in both pans.
Cover with foil and roast about 45-50 minutes or until tender. Remove foil and turn pumpkin pieces; return to oven and continue cooking uncovered about 20 minutes or until most liquid is absorbed. Remove pans from oven. When pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scrape flesh into a large heavy-bottom pot.
Peel and core pears; reserve trimmings for jelly stock (details to follow). Chop pears coarsely and add to stock pot with pear nectar, remaining water, spices and vanilla pods. My stash of pods were fairly dry so I used two and snapped each into inch-long pieces before tossing them into the pot.
My standard jelly pot (the base of my pasta pot) turned out to be too small for the job so I transferred about half of the mixture into my crockpot. To each container add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup brown sugar; mix well. I set the crockpot to high and used a medium-high flame under the rest to cook at a more aggressive boil.
Stir every 20-30 minutes, especially the pot over the burner, being sure to sweep the bottom of both to prevent scorching. When the pears are soft enough to crush with the back of a spoon, use a stick (immersion) blender and process for several minutes. It doesn't need to be perfectly smooth, but let it rip until no pear chunks are obvious.
My goal was to reduce both batches enough to combine it all for an overnight simmer in the uncovered crockpot. After about three hours of mostly unattended cooking, the mix filled the crock to the brim. I left it on the low setting overnight to minimize the chance of scorching. Return to high in the morning and stir every half hour, or whenever you get curious. Be warned that the lava-like mix may spit while bubbling.
How long it will take to be "done" will depend on how thick and/or sweet you like your fruit butter. I added the remaining cup of sugar in the last hour to boost the sweetness, which also helped to boil out the remaining liquid. Place a few spoonfuls in a small bowl and refrigerate 5-10 minutes to check if you like the texture.
Leave about a half-inch of head space in prepared jars -- try to include a bit of vanilla pod in each jar -- and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and leave in water about 5-10 minutes to settle, then remove and set jars on heatproof surface to cool undisturbed.
I used a variety of jar sizes but the batch yielded about a dozen pints, with a little leftover for the fridge. My first use was to dollop on fig bread and make sandwiches with ham and thin slices of honeycrisp apple. It tasted like something you'd spend too much on for lunch at a nice cafe.
I suggested to our favorite mostly-vegetarian neighbor that it also would make a delicious grilled sandwich with apple and cheddar. She apparently imagined a whole apple in a sandwich and dismissed the idea as crazy. Apparently, after she had time to think it over, she changed her mind.