Dispatches From Whitcomb Street

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canning pears

It’s pear season already!

Last year, we canned a lug of pears on what was more or less a whim. They were fantastic; we hid and hoarded jars and ate them plain and baked them into cakes and guarded them jealously all winter. Home-canned pears are pretty wonderful. 

Choose a good canning pear. I really like Red Bartletts for canning; we can get especially fine ones in our area, and I think their texture holds up well through their long cooking. El Dorados are good, too. Or Boscs or D’anjous, or basically any pear that you think is nice cooked. A lug (21 or 22 pounds) will yield 10 or 11 quarts, depending on how you pack the jars.

Pears are typically picked unripe—they ripen a lot better and more evenly off the tree. Hold them in a not-too-warm place until they are the right texture.

NOTE: I depart from a lot of canning advice here and *don’t* wait until the pears are as ripe as you would want them for most out-of-hand eating. I think they’re harder to process when they’re so ripe, and their flesh goes mushy and unappetizing once cooked. Instead, I wait for them to just barely be tasty raw, but still have notably crisp flesh, almost hard rather than custardy. The flesh should be opaque, not translucent. If you’re not sure, just test a pear every day until you have a texture you like combined with enough pear flavor: Peel, core, and halve a pear; simmer it in simple syrup for 30 minutes. This more or less approximates the texture and flavor of your jarred pears; do you like it?

When the pears are ready, wash them carefully, without bruising.

Get your jars clean: I use the sterilize cycle on the dishwasher when I have a big job to get through, but you can also boil them for ten minutes, or wash them in hot soapy water, rinse, and stick in a very low oven to hold.

Now, process the pears. I peel, core, and halve them, though not always in that order. It’s easiest to work in stages; with the tools I have, it’s easiest to root out the stems first, then peel all of them, then halve them, then scoop out their cores with a melon baller. Save all the scraps, as well as any overripe or otherwise unlovely pears, for jelly and jam.

Processing pears is tedious. Really tedious. Peaches and tomatoes slip out of their skins easily, but pears need trimming and lots of hands-on work, especially if they’re firm-ripe. It took me about an hour to get through our 21 pounds. Make sure to mix up a big bowl of water and crushed Vitamin C or Fruit Fresh to hold the peeled pears without discoloration.

Half-fill your canner with water and bring it to a boil. Keep another kettle or big pan of hot water handy.

Put your syrup together—I tend to use a pretty light syrup, one part white sugar to three parts water. Bring it just to a boil and keep hot.

Put your lids in a small pan of water; bring it just to a simmer and keep hot.

Arrange everything around your jar area (this should be a wooden or plastic cutting board, or a toweled area, to minimize thermal shock to the glass) so the so you can reach the pears, the syrup, and the lids without wasting movement. Dampen a paper towel for wiping the rims. 

Pack as many jars as will fit in one canner load. Fill your hot jars quickly with pear halves, arranging them to take up as much of the space as possible, up to 1/2” from the rim. Pack them as tightly as you can without actually mashing or crushing the fruit—the pears will shrink during cooking. Then fill the jars with hot syrup to within 1/2” from the rim, trying to cover all the fruit.

Knock the air bubbles out—I usually just shimmy the jars and tilt them a little to encourage any pockets to break up—and top up with syrup if they need it. Wipe the rims and sides with a damp paper towel. Seat lids and then rings on, fingertip-tight.

Put the jars into the canner and lower them into the water. Top up with hot water if needed to make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch of water. 

Boil for 30 minutes, counting from when the water comes back to a rolling boil. Remove jars carefully and let them cool on towels and in an area free from drafts. Any jars that haven’t sealed by the time they are completely cool should go in the fridge and be eaten soon.


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