Monday, September 1, 2014

Making Pear Preserves

One thing we always loved about summer when growing up in the South, was that you could count on getting plenty of pear preserves when the dog days of summer came along. They were so good!

My mother would peel the pears, cut them in slices and top them with mounds of sugar and let them sit overnight until the pears were watery and the sugar had "melted." Mother would then pour the whole lot into an 8 quart stock pan and let it cook for at least a couple of hours until the pears had reached the perfect golden color. That meant the preserves were ready to can. It also meant that we needed to make buttered biscuits, since the perfect way to serve these preserves is inside a light and fluffy buttermilk biscuit, liberally spread with butter.

I really loved the variety of the pears we used for making preserves. They are not the usual variety we see in the store, but a hard rounder pear that begins green and turns golden when ripe. They were very watery and sweet. They are perfect for canning and of course, preserves.

I believe the old-fashioned pear might be called the Orient pear, Pyrus communis. I am not sure of this, though it does fit the description of these pears. They are somewhat like Asian pears, not quite so round and they are such good producers and not subject to Fire Blight.

The texture is not as good as a Bartlett pear and can be rock hard and even somewhat grainy. When ripe they are a golden brown and will become softer and they ripen but they will remain criper than most pears. They aren't easy to peel and sometimes have hard places in them that I suspect could be insect damage. I always cut that out.

Growing up, we didn't actually have a pear tree in our backyard. We did have a couple of apple trees, including a crab apple tree that was also good for climbing; a peach tree that never produced anything; a wonderful pomegranate tree that was a good producer; and a persimmon tree that, when eaten prematurely, could actually make you pucker. I don't know why we didn't have a pear tree, but it might have been because my grandmother had one so we didn't need one, but that is where we got our pears.

My mother-in-law has a pear tree that is around 50 years old and is about 40 feet tall. I can remember that in years past, the tree limbs would be so heavy with pears that they would almost touch the ground. The tree is now so tall that we can't get all the fruit unless it falls to the ground. This was a good year for that tree because we have made quite a few jars of pear preserves and pear sauce.

To make my Mother's recipe, peel, core and thinly slice enough Orient pears to fill a heavy 8 quart stock pan. Cover with approximately three pounds of sugar. (You don't have to be exact for this to be good.) Lighter pans can tend to stick on the bottom. Cook on medium heat for two to three hours, uncovered. After that, you need to fill approximately 8 pint jars with the mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Clean off the jar rims. Add new lids and rings to the jars and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. If you have any leftover preserves, store them in the refrigerator. You might have excess juice left, which is very good on pancakes or can be used as a simple syrup in teas or anytime simple syrup is recommended.

While you are waiting for the jars to cool, make some biscuits, because you will certainly need them.

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