Makes 5 to 6 half pints
2 3/4 pounds of firm, ripe pears
2 3/4 cups of sugar, plus 1 1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of quatre épices*
7 ounces of orange juice
Juice of one lemon
1 packet of liquid pectin or 6 ounces of homemade apple pectin
Wash, peel, core and cut the pears in a fine julienne. Mix the pears with the 2 3/4 cups of the sugar, spices and the accumulated juices. Allow this mixture to macerate while you make the caramel.
In a preserving pan or 5-quart, heavy stockpot, over low heat, slowly dry-melt the 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Allow it to turn from golden to a deeper amber color. It will smell like caramel (not like burned sugar). Don't rush this process. Take it slowly. You shouldn't need to stir it much, if at all.
OK, here's the really scary part. The part that will make you think you've wrecked it all. Pour in the pears and all the liquid. The caramel will break. It will make you cry a little.
Don't worry. Just heat the whole mixture slowly. You're going to bring it up to 221 degrees, which will take a while. And stir it — a lot — trying to get those pieces of caramel off the bottom of the pot and incorporated into the preserves. It's a hellish moment. Just know that I had it, too.
By the time the preserves reach 221 degrees, the caramel will be incorporated, and it will be heavenly. You'll smell those spices. You'll be happy again.
Add the pectin and bring it back up to a full boil that you can't stir down, and let it boil, stirring all the while, for a full minute. Ladle it into jars, wipe the rims well, place lids and rings on the jars, and process it in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Lift the jars onto a dish towel on the counter and allow to cool.
*Quatre épices is used in all sorts of French sausages and terrines. I like the little bite of white pepper blended with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. It's a nice blend to have in the cupboard — lovely with pears, nice with winter squashes. Give it a try. (Penzeys Spices in Carytown is one place you can find it, although you'll see it labeled as "French Four Spice.")