Pickled Pears

I picked 53 pounds of pears off our backyard tree last week! What now? A whole lot of canning. Pears are strange fruit - most varieties (other than Bartlett) cannot ripen on the tree. If you leave them on the tree until they feel soft on the outside, they will be rotten on the inside. The trick is to pick them green, then ripen them in a cool place, preferably about 55F and 90% humidity. Of course, it's not easy to find any place with that kind of temperature and humidity in New Mexico in September, so we just bought a wine fridge to try to achieve the right conditions. So we'll try to properly ripen some of the haul, and can the rest.

Lackluster or underripe pears are vastly improved by cooking. Mixed pickling spice is the key to the complex flavor of these pickled pears - you can find it in many grocery stores. The recipe is adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, the fabulous updated version of the classic Ball Blue Book which has been the bible of home canning for generations. You have to be extremely careful about adapting canning recipes so that you don't mess up the balance of acidity, which could make the recipe unsafe. All I did was skip the peeling of the pears and add a few tips. This recipe takes a bit of time to make, but the pears are shelf-stable for at least 6 months to a year, and they are delicious with a cheese plate!

6 pounds firm, just-ripe or slightly underripe pears
1 T. mixed pickling spice
1 T. whole cloves
1 T. coarsely chopped gingerroot
3 C. granulated sugar
2 1/2 C. water
1 1/2 C. white vinegar
1/2 lemon, cut into 1/4 inch slices

Halve and core the pears, putting them into a bowl with about a quart of water and the juice of half a lemon to keep them from browning. Add the spices, sugar, water and vinegar to a large nonreactive stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes to let the spices infuse.

Working in batches, put pear halves into the pan in a single layer and poach over medium-low heat until tender, about 7 minutes. If your pears are very underripe, go ahead and poach them all at once, stirring occasionally. When all the pears are done, put them all in the pot, cover, and let stand in a cool place for 12-18 hours.

Prepare a large pot of boiling water, put the jars in it to warm, and warm the lids gently in a skillet of water. Remove pears from pickling liquid and set aside. Bring the pickling liquid to a boil in the stockpot, keeping it covered until you are ready to use it.

Pack the pears into jars, leaving a generous 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into the jars to cover the pears, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Slide a clean knife down the side to remove any air bubbles, and add more liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Center lid on jar, and screw bands down to fingertip-tight. Place jars in the boiling water, ensuring that they are covered by at least 1 inch of water.

Cover the pot, bring it to a boil and process 30 minutes (This is the correct time for Albuquerque at 5000 feet. In Santa Fe, at 7000 feet, it's 40 minutes. If you're at sea level, you only need to do 20 minutes.)  Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and wait 5 minutes before pulling the jars from the water. Set them on a dishtowel to cool for several hours before moving them. Makes 6 pints.


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