It is officially harvest time and officially fall and I am officially so excited about it that I’m about to explode. This is high gear food preservation season for me. I have an ant-and-grasshopper parable complex and I start flying around stuffing things maniacally into jars. My benchmark -and you may have heard me mention it before- is “Would I love to eat this in the middle of winter?” If the answer is yes, I figure out a way to preserve it. Since freezer space is at a premium (I’m saving room for the venison that I’m hoping will fill it), I rely on canning to hang onto that harvest freshness year ’round.
I’ve had to scale back my canning efforts this year due to a busy summer schedule, but this has been a good thing. I’ve had to focus on what we really want to eat, what we want to give as gifts, and what makes me weepy-happy to have on the shelves. Among those are home canned pears. Not just any pears, mind you, but my favourite ginger pears in dark syrup.
Home canned pears are -on their own- some of the best things on earth: tender, sweet, and full of pear-y goodness. When you add just a smidge of the warming power of ginger to those pears, they absolutely sing. Hang on. I need to channel my best internal infomercial hawker.
But wait… There’s MORE. Not only is this one of my favourite things to eat, it’s one of my favourite kinds of recipes; it’s a three-fer! Three recipes for the price of one!
How is this even possible? Oh gosh. It’s so easy, it’s almost criminal. You know how light fleshed fruits brown when cut unless they’re treated with lemon juice, fruit fresh, citric acid solution or somesuch? That little lemony bath that prevents your pears from becoming ugly and brown does double duty. After all the pears soak in it, you leave just a couple in the drink and boil it, then strain. Ta da! A delicate, mild pear juice with a bit of body. And the pears you soaked? You warm them and then pack them in a dark ginger syrup (courtesy of raw or brown sugar) that has been steeping some finely sliced ginger. You pack the extra syrup -because there WILL be some- into other jars and Vi-Oh-Lee! You have pear juice, ginger pears in dark syrup, and ginger pear syrup.
Let’s examine the possibilities, because they’re numerous! Aside from eating the pears straight from the jar, you can bake them in a crisp, eat them on vanilla or pumpkin ice cream, serve with roasted pork, toss into smoothies or winter fruit salad. Yes, you can drink the pear juice as is, but it’s wonderful in party punch or hot toddies, and since it is sweet enough without added sugar, it’s wonderful for the kiddies. “Dark ginger pear syrup?” you say. “What do I do with THAT?” Oh people. Oh my. You drizzle that on ice cream, over apple pie, add a tablespoon or two in apple or pear crisp, use it in mixed drinks, or pour a little over ice then top off with seltzer for -wait for it- GINGER PEAR SODA. Holy moly.
Is there work involved? Yes, but it is worth every second of effort. I even have a tip to share with you on how to get through the pears more easily (although it’s playing it a little Thomas Keller)… After hours upon hours of pear processing over the years, I’m happy to say that I have the method. Here’s how it’s done:
- Cut the pear in half. Seriously. Start here before you peel it.
- Use a vegetable peeler -not a paring knife- to peel the pear. That way you only pull away the skin and don’t lose any precious pear flesh.
- Use the small end of a melon baller to remove the tough core at the base of the pear.
- Use the larger end of the melon baller to remove the seed area from the pear.
I can’t wait to hear how you use your Three-In-One Pears. I’ll just wait here slurping them right out of a jar.
- 4½ cups raw sugar (Can substitute light brown sugar if raw is unavailable.)
- 6 cups water
- 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into very thin matchstick like pieces
- 8 to 12 pounds fresh pears, ripe but firm, plus 6 extra pears (for the juice)
- 12 cups fresh, cool water
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- Prepare canner, jars and lids. Follow this link for more detailed instructions on how to do this. You will want 6-8 quart jars and 2-4 pint jars or 4-8 half pint jars and the lids/rings for them.
- Combine the raw sugar, sliced ginger and water in a large stainless steel saucepan. Stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Add a lid to the pot, turn off the heat and leave on the burner to keep warm and infuse with the ginger flavour. This is the dark ginger syrup.
- Combine the juice ingredients in a stainless steel, plastic or glass bowl. Set this near a cutting board on the counter top. It is going to do double duty by preventing discoloration of the pears and then becoming juice.
- Working with one pear at a time to prevent browning, cut the pear in half, peel with a vegetable peeler and use a melon baller to remove the tough core and seeds from the pear. Ease it into the lemon water. Repeat until all of your pears are peeled and cored and in the water (including the 6 extra pears.)
- Remove the lid from the syrup and place it over medium low heat until steam is coming from it. Gently warm all but 12 of the pear halves in a single layer until heated all the way through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pears, cored side down in overlapped layers, leaving between ½-inch and ¾-inch of head space (err on the side of more rather than less head space if necessary.) Be sure you've left 12 pear halves in the lemon water.
- Use a ladle to pour the hot syrup over the pears (allowing the ginger shreds to pour into the jars, too.) Remove air bubbles from the jars (using a thin, flexible knife or a chopstick and adjust syrup levels if necessary. Wipe rims, center lids on jars, and screw rings into place until fingertip tight.
- Pour additional syrup into pint or half pint jars leaving ¼-inch of head space, wipe the rims, center the lids on the jars, and screw the rings in place until fingertip tight.
- Place those jars in the canner, cover with water, bring to a boil and process the jars for 25 minutes. When the time is up, turn the heat off, remove the lid from the canner and let the jars sit in the water for 5 minutes. Transfer the jars to a cooling rack and let them cool undisturbed overnight, then remove the rings, wipe down, label and store.
- Transfer the liquid and 12 remaining pear halves to a large stainless steel pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and let simmer uncovered until the pears are falling apart.
- Line a colander that is positioned over a large stockpot with at least two layers of cheese cloth and and use a large measuring cup or ladle to scoop the pear/water mixture into the colander. Let it slowly filter -without pressing it down- until it stops dripping through the cheese cloth. This may take up to two hours.
- Place the stockpot over medium high heat and bring it up just to the point where steam is rising from the top- 190°F. Ladle the hot juice into prepared jars, leaving ¼-inch of head space in the jar.
- Wipe the rims, center the lids, and screw the rings in place until fingertip tight.
- Place the jars in the canner, cover with water, add the lid to the canner and bring to a boil. Process for 10 minutes, turn off the heat, remove the lid from the canner and let the jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Transfer the jars to a cooling rack and let cool undisturbed overnight. Remove the rings, wipe down and label and store.