On Thursdays my friend, Laura, and I have a two hour gap in a long day of classes. We make a beeline for New Cascadia, a favorite gluten-free cafe and bakery, for lunch, then head across the street to a giant Goodwill to poke around for an hour. I never leave without a treasure. Recently, it was a quart size pale blue mason jar, old and delicate compared with its sturdy modern counterparts. The blown glass holds tiny bubbles … somehow the discovery of these bubbles made me so happy. This jar is unique; there isn’t another one exactly like it — so different from today’s factory made jars, each identical, indistinguishable. This jar seems like a work of art, and indeed it is — a relic from days when every household item was made by another person’s hands.
All afternoon I proudly showed off my jar. I’m not sure everyone quite understood my enthusiasm. It rode home in my bike basket, carefully wrapped in a jacket. It’s been sitting on the table for two weeks now, illuminated by sunlight, and my heart hops a bit every time I catch a glimpse of it. I think I need an empty jar right now … I need to fill it up with something fine and be reminded that even when life seems empty, something beautiful and delicious is just waiting to be poured into the spaces.
Just about this time last year I was getting to know someone who would turn out to be a fleeting presence, here then gone. We took a drive east out of Portland, leaving behind pavement and people. There wasn’t a real destination in mind, and we found ourselves in a maze of dirt roads winding through endless rolling hills of cherry orchards. It felt good to be lost in the afternoon sun, just gazing out the open window onto row after row of trees, dripping with jewel-like fruit. Eventually we found our way out and drank fresh cherry juice at a farm stand. It was a sweet day.
The piles of cherries that have appeared in the grocery store recalled that day, and I suddenly knew how to fill my antique jar. This is the time to start filling jars with summer fruit to bring sunshine into next winter. Even if you don’t have time for jams and other projects, you have time for this … just pack a jar with fruit and spices, cover with vodka or rum, and store away in a cool, dark place to let the flavors work their alchemy. Open six months from now for a magical end to a festive dinner party. Or bring as a hostess gift. People go nuts for these, I’ve discovered, and it’s so nice to have something homemade to just grab, when you need it!
Preserved Pears & Cherries: (amount for two quart jars — either wide or regular mouth sizes are fine)
- 3 to 4 very firm pears (Bosc have a good texture, but any will do)
- 1 lemon
- 1 lb cherries (approximately — leave stems on)
- 1 or more vanilla beans, split
- 2 star anise
- 2 inch chunk fresh ginger, sliced
- 20 cardamom pods
- handful of peppercorns
- sprig of fresh rosemary (optional — if it’s growing nearby!)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- vodka to fill jars
Cut the pears into quarter, and gently carve out the seeds. Put honey in the bottom of the jar. Now comes the artistic/engineering part — layer your pears, cherries & spices into the jar so that you get as much fruit in as possible. This takes a bit of work because it’s easy to have big gaps. Cutting the pears in quarters helps, but be gentle with them. Once everything is nicely nestled in, wedge half a lemon on top, cut side down. Now pour vodka over the top until the whole jar is filled. Press down on the lemon with a clean spoon to squeeze out air bubbles, and top off. Adjust your lemon if necessary — the key is not to have a single bit of anything poking out or it will mold. The alcohol has to cover everything. Cap the jar, and store in a cool, dark place — back of the fridge is ideal — or a basement or root cellar if you’re lucky enough to have one! Fruit is ready after a month, but I keep up to six months. When you open, just be sure to check that fruit has remained completely submerged otherwise don’t eat!
To Serve: Cut the pears into thin slices and serve with cheese or a simple pound cake and a drizzle of cream. (I’ll post a great gluten-free pound cake recipe in the fall so you can bust out your jars for the holidays …) Drain the cherries into a bowl, and let people eat them with their fingers. It’s like getting to eat a whole jar of maraschino cherries … did anyone else want to do that as a kid?? The spiced, fruity vodka is great in a punch, cocktail or added to mulled wine — or sipped on its own …