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Snackcrafting: Cardamom ginger pickled pears

Credit: Martine Richards
Credit: Martine Richards

The past half-dozen times I've gone to the Safeway on 25th Street, I've been taunted by an incredible selection of adorable miniature pears. Seckels and Forelles? In stock for weeks upon weeks at a time? What kind of black magic is this? (If the black-magic spell is broken by my saying something about it, I'm sorry. You can usually find little pears this time of year at H-Mart in Catonsville as well.) I resisted the temptation so many times, but let's be real, I'm weak-willed. One minute I was putting spinach and potatoes in my cart with which to make a reasonable dinner; the next thing I knew my cart contained a very big bag of very little pears.

Tiny pears are wonderful for many things: putting in a child's lunch box, pretending you are a giant human, or, as I learned recently, packing into jars of brine for a sweet and sour two-bite pickle. The first two things aren't recipes, so obviously we are going to do the latter.

Keep these on hand for all your upcoming fancy holiday soirees. Lay them out on a cheese board at your own party, or bring them as a hostess gift to someone else's. Give a white-elephant gift that somebody would actually want to receive, or keep a stash to give to coworkers who inexplicably give you a Christmas gift and make you feel obligated to return the favor. Just make sure to save a jar for yourself.

If you have never canned anything before, I highly recommend reading some general canning information before you get started. Canning is first and foremost a science, and recipes have been developed and tested by professionals to make sure you don't kill yourself. Winging it in the kitchen is fun, but canning requires great care. It is generally considered safe to change up your seasonings (which would not significantly alter pH or density), but this is definitely not the recipe to substitute your homemade kombucha vinegar of unknown acidity. Be safe.

Cardamom Ginger Pickled Pears
Adapted from Pickled Seckel Pears by Marisa McClellan for Serious Eats
makes 8 pint jars

Equipment
8 pint canning jars, rings, and unused canning lids
Boiling-water canner with rack and lid
Jar-lifting tongs
Jar funnel (optional, but recommended)
Ladle
Ruler or measuring tape
Clean dish towels
Small melon baller

Ingredients:
6 pounds small pears, such as Seckel or Forelle
Water and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
4 cups apple cider vinegar (5 percent acidity)
4 cups water
1 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
4 teaspoons pickling salt
16 green cardamom pods, gently crushed
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

Wash and rinse your jars, rings, and lids. Place the jars on the rack in your canner. Fill the pot with water until the jars are just covered. Bring to a boil while you work.

Wash and dry your pears. Slice them in half, leaving the stem on, then use a small melon baller to scoop out any seeds. As you cut the pears, put them in a large bowl of cold water with lemon juice added to keep them from browning while you work.

In a large saucepan, combine water, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and pickling salt. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Remove jars from boiling water bath with your jar tongs, and pour the water back into the pot. Place jars on a folded dishtowel—putting hot jars directly on a cold countertop could cause them to shatter. Keep the water in the canner boiling while you pack the jars.

Put two cardamom pods and one thin slice of ginger into each jar. Tightly pack pear halves into the jars, cut-side down—I managed about 6-8 halves per pint.

Using a ladle and jar funnel, pour hot brine into each jar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Insert a non-metal item (I use a chopstick) along the edge to loosen any trapped air bubbles, then add more brine if necessary.

Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rim of each jar. Center a lid on each jar, then screw the ring on to each until you just hit resistance—this is called "fingertip tight" and allows enough room for the air to escape the jars during processing.

Use jar tongs to place the jars back in the canner. Add more water if needed so there is at least 1 inch of water covering the jars. Crank the heat and bring it back to a full, rolling boil.

Once you've reached a full boil, put a lid on the canner and set your timer for 15 minutes. Do not start the processing timer until you're fully boiling, and do not remove the lid during the 15 minutes.

When time's up, use the jar tongs to remove the jars from the canner (straight up, without tilting). Place jars on a dishtowel and wait for the satisfying pop, pop, pop of the jars sealing. Let sit undisturbed for at least 12 hours.

Test seals by pressing on the middle of the lid. If it moves up and down, the jar can be refrigerated immediately and used first. But most, if not all, of your jars should seal correctly.

Remove the rings and rinse the jars in warm water to remove any residue. Let sit for at least 1 week to pickle.

Unopened jars may be stored for up to 1 year in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate after opening and consume within 4 months.

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Snackcrafting is a blog series about culinary creativity with a dash of arts-and-crafts panache. Fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade goodies to eat and share.

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