It's pear season here, but that doesn't mean sweet, juicy Southern versions of Boscs or an Anjous. Instead our pears, called Keifers, are hard as a rock, have a grainy jicama-like flesh, and are covered in an unpleasant, often bitter skin. Yum! No, they don't make great snacks, but they do make the most crisp, distinct fruit preserves I've ever had.
Keifers were once so esteemed for their performance in preserves nearly every home-place here had a Keifer tree somewhere on it. And because these trees are incredibly prolific, long-living and suited to our climate, many of them still exist and still produce fruit. We have a Keifer tree at my parent's house that my dad says is 100 years old. If you'd describe the trunk of a tree as having four sides, this tree has one. A single thick, gnarled sheet of bark supports the entire crown. There's no insides, no inner core. And that sheet of bark has a hole in it. It's amazing the tree is still standing, much less that it produces fruit. But it does. It's pears are mildly sweet and about the size of baseballs. This is good because no matter what you intend to do with a Keifer, you're probably gonna want to peel it. And a pear the size of a golf ball is freaking hard to peel.
I'm a fruit preserve prophet. I wrote extensively about them in my upcoming book, Deep Run Roots, so I won't go nuts here. But basically I hate it when I see fruit jams that are labeled preserves. Jam is fine, but calling a clumsy jam a preserve is like equating an amateur gymnast with Simone Biles. Jam is fruit that's cooked down with sugar and sometimes spices to a spreadable, mashed up consistency. Proper preserves are elegant, distinct pieces of fruit suspended in syrup. Preserves require a little planning and nearly perfect fruit. Jam does not. The two things are not the same.
All that being said, the method for fruit preserves is easy and consistent from fruit to fruit. I start by washing my fruit well. If you're using strawberries, figs or blackberries, leave them whole for the most pristine end product. If you are making apple, peach or pear preserves, peel them before cutting the fruit into thin, consistently sized slices or wedges. Then weigh the fruit after it's been hulled, peeled and sliced. If you have 2 pounds of prepared fruit, you need 2 pounds of granulated white sugar. I know that sounds like a lot of sugar, but preserves are a treat, not a food group. Then toss the fruit with the sugar. If you want to add other ingredients like lemon slices or spices of any kind, do it now to allow their flavor to more fully develop. Cover the fruit with plastic wrap and let it macerate overnight. This step is crucial. Do not skip it. If you do, you'll make jam not preserves. The next day, cook all the fruit, the spices and the accumulated juice over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. If you're making pear or apple preserves, cook them covered until the fruit is translucent.
Keifer preserves are exceptional because they hold their shape and crisp texture astoundingly well. When strawberry, blackberry or fig preserves end up kind of flabby and soft, Keifer slices suspended in syrup maintain an toothy crunch. It's amazing actually. And with clear, shiny slices floating in a golden syrup, they're also beautiful to look at.
Keifer preserves are so special in fact, I wouldn't dream of simply typecasting them as condiments for toast or biscuits. They've got way more potential than that. Instead I spoon my pear preserves on top of fancy cheese balls and ripe wheels of Brie. I gild fatty pork chops and glaze smoked hams with generous spoonfuls mounted with a little cider vinegar. And I whisk preserves with a mix of lemon juice, salt and olive oil to transform them into an ideal dressing for bitter greens like arugula. But for the most mind-bending costume change a fruit preserve could possibly make, add a little or a lot of hot sauce and drizzle the drippy result on fried chicken.