By Allison Carroll Duffy
This pear conserve–studded with dried fruit and toasted pecans– is sweet, rich, and undeniably decadent. Generously laced with warming spices and a touch of citrus, it’s one of my most favorite conserves, and it’s a perfect accompaniment for the holiday season. The citrus notes in this conserve come primarily from fresh-squeezed orange juice and minced orange peel. To obtain the necessary amount of juice, you’ll need about four large oranges. Though, just one of these oranges will probably provide you with the right amount of peel. Select organic oranges if at all possible, especially since you’ll be using the peel. I find it works best to prepare the minced peel before juicing the oranges. To do this, use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of the peel–primarily the orange part– from one (or more, if necessary) of the oranges. Then, finely mince it. Keep peeling and mincing until you have the required 1/4 cup of minced peel. Then, slice all of the oranges in half and juice them, removing seeds as necessary.
The toasted pecans contribute additional depth and richness to this conserve. I prefer to toast the pecans on the stove top, instead of in the oven, as this gives me more control over the heat, which helps to prevent burning. I also like to toast the pecan halves prior to chopping them, as I find it easier to get them nicely browned this way. Place the pecan halves in a heavy-bottomed fry pan (cast iron is ideal), and toast them over medium or medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, until the pecans are nicely browned. Then remove them from the pan, allow them to cool, and coarsely chop them.
Besides being delicious, this conserve is extremely versatile, which makes it great to have on hand during the busy holiday season. Overnight guests will enjoy it slathered on a warm muffin for breakfast, or you can serve it with crackers and a sharp cheddar for an easy evening appetizer. It’s also delicious on top of vanilla ice cream, or swirled into plain yogurt. And for something a little different, try using this conserve in making baked goods. It’s great as a filling for turnovers, spread between layers in a cookie bar, or on a rustic tart.