Pear Preserves

Our pear preserves are not like the ones we had growing up. They’re not as sweet, and frankly not as pretty. But they seem right for us.

We have four pear trees in the East Orchard, but we planted them only this year, so any pears from them are a distant vision. We are fortunate, though, that my brother Dave Gray is an orchard fanatic. He and his wife Lynda graciously invited us to come pick pears last week, and Amanda and I jumped at the chance.

We spent the morning in the orchard with him, learning about all his trees as we worked. We finished with about three bushels of pears, and Amanda and I brought about a bushel home with us. After letting them sit for several days so they could “mellow” (at least that’s what Dave Gray calls it), we began peeling and cutting them up.

Monday’s batch was all cut up pieces, but we ended up cooking it more just to soften it up, so Amanda and I decided to start with puree for the main batches we did on Tuesday, with some chunks thrown in for texture. We also needed the chunks because that’s how Amanda’s grandmother did it, and we needed to honor Gran Gran. Here’s our process from start to finish.

We work in batches of 8 cups of fruit at the time. After peeling and cutting up the pears (easily the most time consuming part of the job), we puree about 3/4 of the fruit and cut up the remaining 1/4 into small chunks. We put the fruit in the dutch oven on the induction cooktop (an ordinary cooking eye would work just fine), along with one cup of water. We let that mixture come to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Then we stir in one 1.75 ounce package of no-sugar pectin (we used Sure-Jell in the pink box, for low sugar and no sugar recipes), and let the mixture return to a boil. Then we stir in 1/2 cup of sugar and let the sugar dissolve. Then we turn the heat down to low until we are ready to place the mixture into jars.

For the canning process, we use our All American pressure canner, although this is a water bath process, not pressure canning, so any big pot would do. We place the canner on our propane burner well in advance, with enough water to cover all the jars we plan on using and about two inches in addition. Once the water heats up, it stays hot throughout the process, so bringing it to a fresh boil takes comparatively little propane.

We wash the jars and lids and then place them in the hot water for at least 10 minutes. The water must be at least 180 degrees, but we usually have it boiling so we don’t need to measure the temperature. When we’re ready to put the preserves into the jars, we first turn the burner off so we can see clearly down in the water. I retrieve one jar at a time, using a nifty pair of tongs we got with our first canner several years ago. Amanda spoons the preserves into the jar using a funnel. Then I retrieve one lid, using a cute little magnetic wand we got at the same time as the tongs. I place the lid and then a band on the jar, and we set it aside. Then we move on to the next jar.

When we have all the jars for this batch filled, we fire up the burner again and place the jars back in the hot water using those nifty tongs again. We wait for the water to return to boiling and then let the jars stay in boiling water for 10 minutes. Then we turn the burner off and retrieve the jars. We love to hear the happy sound of the lids “popping” as each jar forms its seal. We leave the jar undisturbed for 12 hours, and then store it.

We’ve learned that it works better for us to make a succession of 3-4 batches than to try to make one big batch, even though our canner is big enough to handle about as much as we would want to make. First, we work in a tiny kitchen with utensils that are sized appropriately for two people. We don’t tend to have huge pots, and we don’t have any big pots we can use on the induction cooktop. Second, we may get better at this in the future, but as inexperienced as we are, we pay a lot of attention to timing, trying to get the preserves into the jars and into the hot water bath with all deliberate speed after the mixture is ready.

Now, a word about the choices we’ve made. Most of the recipes you see for pear preserves on the Internet use a LOT more sugar than ours, and there’s a good reason why. Those high-sugar recipes, particularly when used with long cooking times, produce a beautiful amber color that makes pear preserves a visual delight. Our pear preserves are much duller looking, kind of a dirty blond. They also don’t taste like the preserves we enjoyed growing up. They taste much more like fresh fruit and less like candy. That’s right for us, but it’s definitely different from the taste most people expect from pear preserves.

The video covers each step and runs a little less than three minutes.

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