Throughout our life together, my husband's motto has been "never learn anything useful, or you will be destined for a low income job forever". Thus, as we have moved across continents from Sweden to Brussels to London, when the toilet clogged, we called a plumber. When we needed the floors repaired, we called a floorman... You get the picture. When I first moved to Sweden to be with Peter, we lived in a cottage with a lovely garden in the middle of Djurgården, a beautiful park on an island in the middle of Stockholm. I had visions of herbs and roses, maybe a little lemon tree....Peter said, "Gardening?...I will provide emotional support sitting on the deck with a glass of wine." So, you can imagine my suprise, ten years later, when we moved here to Berkeley to our first house that we own together, as opposed to the rented places we had occupied over the years, and Peter started browsing through hardware stores buying power tools. At first, I was very doubtful...why are you buying that chainsaw? Won't the gardener we hire have one? Suddenly, my armchair husband was leaping onto the roof to fix leaks, under the sink to fix the disposal, out in the garden cutting down trees....He has become a great gardener...our wonderful kitchen garden is 90% due to his efforts, his weeding, trimming, cultivating, and compost turning. So, I have slowly been coming to terms with the fact that Peter actually has practical, dare I say, "manly" fix-it skills beyond finance.
The first new suprise, this fall, came as Peter was trimming our kitchen garden and had a huge pile of peppermint. He said, we are going to make jelly. I said, uh huh, and went back to my computer. A few hours later, after hearing banging from the kitchen, I wander over and there is Peter, knee deep in jars and sugar...mumbling things about pectin. Another hour or so, and lined up on the counter are 5 pretty little jars of golden brown jelly! The next morning, we try the jelly on toast...it is good...tasty even...really nice.
A few days later, Peter comes to me with a basket of pears that he and my son have picked and said, we are going to preserve these pears. I say, OK, and go back to my computer. He stops me...no, we are going to preserve these pears NOW and you are going to help. So, I find myself at the kitchen table peeling pears to his explicit instructions. He is measuring sugar and vinegar and mumbling to himself about ginger....and voila...a few hours later, we have a few beautiful jars of pears preserved in a ginger syrup. He forgets to let me taste them before he cans them....but they look gorgeous. So, I say, let's do another batch using our own red wine vinegar flavored with cinnamon. (Because with all the wine Peter drinks, we have lots of leftover dregs which we had to do something with...so voila! red wine vingear). This time, I remember to taste before we put them in jars, and they are fantastic. Sweet, sour, spicy...the pears melting on the tongue. This stuff will be great over vanilla icecream.
Next apples...we discover we have 5 or so apple trees and the apples are actually pretty tasty. But what are we going to do with all of these apples? Apple pie, apple crisp, apple cake all come to mind...but as we are continuously on a diet, it seems a bad idea to go down that route....of course! Apple cider. So one beautiful Saturday morning, we invite our friends over, rent an apple press, and make apple cider. After drinking lots of it straight, we still have about 10 gallons over, which we are now fermenting into hard cider in a huge glass jug. Peter checks it about every 15 minutes. It is now almost a week later, and it is bubbling away merrily, yeast consuming sugars making alcohol...Peter checks it with various gadgets he has purchased and informs me that sugar level is good. He spends an hour on the telephone discussing the intricacies of carbonization versus alcohol content with his best friend....I just look forward to drinking it.
I am not sure what to make of this new do-it-yourself Peter. While, I love the garden, the preserves, and I think I am going to enjoy the cider, I am not enjoying helping him de-clog the toilet. Why can't we just call a plumber? I am thankful, however, that he feels roof duty is too dangerous for me, so I just watch out the window as he heroically climbs up in the middle of windy rainy storms to adjust the gutters, so that we won't have flood of water leaking into our house. I try to do my part by having a cup of hot coffee and a towel ready for him as he comes dripping back into the house.
Here is a recipe for the lovely pear preserves. The base recipe is from the 1940 edition of Hemmets Kokbok, the Swedish counterpart to the Fannie Farmer cookbook.
2 kilo pears
600 grams sugar
3 deciliters of white distilled vinegar
6 deciliters water
2 pieces of peeled fresh ginger
Peel the pears, but leave whole. Trim the stems and scrape off the skin of the stems. Lay them in water after each is peeled to prevent them from going brown.
Take the sugar, vinegar, water, and ginger and boil it up in a big pot until the sugar dissolves. Lay in the pears and simmer for 3 to 4 hours without a lid until they are soft but still retain their shape.
You can put them in a bowl with the syrup and refrigerate overnight to eat the next day. Or you can put them in sterilized jars to conserve (there is lots on the web on how to do this...we just put clean canning jars into boiling water for a couple of minutes).
A Variation: You can vary this how you like with different kinds of vinegar and different flavorings. One that we liked very much is to use half red wine vinegar and half distilled vinegar and replace the ginger with a couple cinnamon sticks. Another flavoring we used is to boil some fresh rosemary in the syrup before adding in the pears. All were delicious.