HOW TO PRESERVE PEARS
It’s amazing how the taste of preserves, such as a favorite aunt’s strawberry jam or bread-and-butter pickles, can flood us with memories of our childhoods. I need only pick a card from my grandmother’s old recipe box to evoke her nurturing spirit. To time travel back to her warm and homey kitchen, I simply whip up a pan of biscuits and head to the pantry shelf for a jar of jam.
One of my grandmother’s hallmarks was pear marmalade, a lovely variation on the all-citrus standard. She often made it in September when local pears are plentiful, sometimes shocking us with their swift transformation from rock-hard to brown mush.
I’ve learned that pears are tricky: unlike most other fruit, they ripen after being picked instead of on the tree. They also ripen from the inside out, which is why it’s a good idea to preserve them when they are still a bit green to avoid a mushy surprise.
Because early September is usually a blur of garden harvesting and back-to-school preparations in my household, I often don’t get to the pears in time – those quick-ripening Clapps and Bartletts wait for no one.
Thankfully there are winter pears, so called to refer to the season in which they come to market. These varieties are picked when they are green and keep for several months in cold storage. To ripen them, simply place them in a warm area such as your kitchen. Using these pears, you can make preserves in the colder months when standing over a hot stove is more appealing when compared to August. You can usually find them at the grocery store or farmers’ market. Winter pear varieties include Bosc, Anjou, Flemish Beauty and Seckel.
My grandmother used finely chopped oranges in her pear marmalade, but feel free to try other citrus fruit. Some pear marmalade recipes call for limes or lemons. Because pears are a pulpy fruit high in pectin, you won’t need to add extra pectin to your marmalade in order to achieve a good set.
8 cups peeled, cored and thinly sliced firm but ripe pears
4 cups sugar
3 whole oranges, lemons or limes
1 1/4 cups water
Prepare 4 canning jars in a boiling water canner with a rack at the bottom. Keep lids warm in a pot of hot but not boiling water until ready to can.
In a large saucepan or Maslin pan, combine pears and sugar.
Cut citrus peel into thin strips and put in a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Boil until rind is soft and water has evaporated.
Squeeze your citrus fruit of choice and add juice to pears.
Bring pear mixture to a boil, stirring often, until marmalade begins to gel (usually 15 – 20 minutes). To test for gel, put a spoonful of marmalade on a plate in the freezer for several minutes and then run your finger through it. The mixture has reached gel stage when your finger leaves a clean line that doesn’t run together.
Turn off heat, stir in citrus rind and skim off foam, if necessary.
Ladle hot pear marmalade into a hot jar, allowing at least 1/2” headspace at the top of the jar. Wipe around the rim with a clean cloth and seal using hot lids. Screw band on to finger tightness only. Put jars back in canner and add extra water if necessary to ensure all jars are covered by at least 1” of water. Cover canner with lid and return to a boil before counting processing time. Boil for 10 minutes (altitudes up to 1,000’ above sea level).
Remove jars and place them upright on a cutting board or other heat-resistant surface. Cool upright, undisturbed for 24 hours. After cooling, check for seal – sealed lids are concave and don’t move when pressed. Store preserves in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
Makes 4 × 250ml jars.
Gertie’s Pear Pickles
Pear pickles are another favourite preserve, and one that straddles the line between sweet and sour. My great-grandmother, Gertie, who lived with her family in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, handed down her recipe to me. Family lore recounts that there was a pear tree growing near the house where my grandfather grew up, and these pickles were the only preserve he remembered his mother making. (Understandable as she had seven children.) He also recalled how tasty these pickles were when served with that old Maritime Saturday-night favorite – baked beans and brown bread. I’ve found them to be a fine accompaniment to stews, and also serve them with roast pork or chicken.
14 cups pears, cored and peeled
6 cups brown sugar
4 cups vinegar
2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick per jar of preserves
Core and peel pears, cutting them lengthwise into spear shapes. In a large saucepan, boil together vinegar, sugar and spices. Pack fruit into hot, sterilized jars and add hot liquid, leaving at least 1/2” of headspace.
Use the same canning process as described above for pear marmalade, processing jars for 10 minutes after water returns to a boil.
Yield 6 × 500ml jars.
(I used the Michigan State University Extension Service’s conversion tool for canned pears, where they suggest 11 pounds of pears will fit into 9 pint jars. I converted 1 pint= 500ml for Canadian canners who may be more familiar with the metric measure for preserving. I also converted pounds to cups from Gertie’s original recipe, as most home cooks will use volume rather than weight.)
Elizabeth Peirce is an award-winning author, editor, gardener and teacher. Her book You Can Too! Canning, Pickling, and Preserving the Maritime Harvest is available from Nimbus Publishing and at all major bookstores. Her new book Grow Hope: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Food Garden At Home was released in early 2021. Elizabeth offers workshops that focus on how to grow and preserve our own food and she is hard at work on an online course called "Gardening in Tough Times." Visit her website at elizabethpeirce.ca.