Monday, October 05, 2009
The harvest continues! Although the nip of fall is definitely in the air, ripe fruit continues to spill over Portland sidewalks. Last week a friend and I harvested a wheelbarrow full of pears from a neighbor's overflowing tree. After beginning a canning venture at the ill-advised start time of 8pm, we picked through piles of delicious-but-imperfect backyard fruit, cutting out the brown spots and bug bites (and, in one terrifying moment, fighting an earwig that spilled out onto the floor). We peeled, chopped, and simmered, getting sugary syrup over everything in sight. But in the end we filled the countertops with jar after jar of quartered poached pears (and several more jars of pearsauce, made from the fruit that was either too ripe or too ugly). And we finished before midnight. Barely.
The details on canning pears vary a bit, depending upon the details of your pears. Very ripe pears, like fleshy plums, can be raw-packed. The soft fruit is peeled, seeded, cut into quarters if desired, then shoved in a clean jar and topped with a sugar syrup. But if your fruit is firmer, you want to go the hot-pack route. Instead of just covering raw fruit with a hot syrup, you first simmer the fruit segments directly in the syrup for five minutes. The pears are then ladled out into your clean jars, and topped with the syrup. I'm partial to the hot-pack method, probably because I'm too impatient to wait for pears to ripen (and I find the under-ripe fruit somewhat easier to work with). Both methods result in lovely canned pears. Just make sure you don't hot-pack ripe pears, which are too soft to withstand the simmer, and will begin to break apart. A good rule of thumb is that if the pear is soft enough to eat raw, it's too soft to hot-pack.
Canned Pears (a rough template)
As many pears as you can handle
A bowl of water with a splash of lemon juice
As much syrup as you need
As many jars as it takes
Any flavorings you fancy to add excitement to the fruit (I went with slices of ginger and cardamom pods, but you can try vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, thyme sprigs, etc.)
A splash of booze (optional - brandy makes for a traditional pairing)
Sterilize your jars, either in boiling water or a dishwasher. Distribute any desired spices among the jars.
Peel your pears, and cut them in half to remove the seeds (a melon baller works wonderfully, but a knife also does the job) and any remaining stem or blossom bits on the ends. Some pears also have a tough string of membrane running from the seeds to the stem -- remove this if you see it. Leave the pears as halves, or cut into quarters if you desire. Drop the segments into the lemony water to prevent discoloration.
Prepare your syrup: I favor a medium syrup, of 2 parts water to 1 part sugar. Make as much as you'll need to fill your jars. Add a splash of booze to taste, if desired. Bring to a boil.
Fish your pear segments out of the lemony water. If you have firm pears, simmer them in the syrup for five minutes. Remove the segments with a slotted spoon, and place in your jars, shaking them down a bit to fit in as many as possible. Pour syrup in the jars up to the bottom thread. Free any trapped air pockets with a sterilized spoon or knife, and add more syrup if needed. If you have softer pears, skip the simmering and add them directly to the jars. Unlike the pre-simmered pears, they will do a bit more shrinking, so pack them in tightly. Top with the boiling syrup, and remove any air pockets.
Top jars with sterilized lids, screw the rings on finger-tight, and then process in a boiling water bath (20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts). Remove and cool, then check that the lids have sealed. The syrup will infuse the pears (and vice versa) as they sit. By winter, they'll be amazing.