Old-fashioned Pear Preserves are incredibly simple and delicious; three ingredients transformed into glistening slices of fruit in a honey like syrup. This recipe is versatile and can be made with any amount of pears. So, it’s great for small batch canning or for huge canning projects. This is a true preserve, one that does not require boxed pectin or any gelling agents. Fruit, patience, sugar and love are the only things needed to make this sweet treat.
Pears are fairly easy to come by in late Summer and early Fall throughout most of the US and many European countries. For many of us they are the easiest fruit to get for free. One mature pear tree can produce far more pears than the average home orchardist has time to deal with. The pears that I use for preserves are hard green “canning pears,” as referred to by many old-timers. There are many varieties that would be suitable for pear preserves including Anjou, Kieffer and Bartlett. The most important thing to know is the pears must be hard. Fully ripe pears will fall apart and turn to mush when cooked. When under ripe hard pears are cooked into preserves they hold their shape and develop a fabulous firm texture.
For many years I gathered my green “canning pears” at my PawPaw’s (grandfather’s). PawPaw had an old tree growing on his neighbor’s side of the fence that dropped a ton of pears into his back yard. The first year I ever picked pears with PawPaw I had planned on just canning halves. But he had sweeter plans. After we picked a full five-gallon bucket, he said to me: “You know, I don’t have a preserve maker any more…” That is all he had to say. His “preserve maker” was his beautiful late wife and my dearest friend, Mawmaw Edwards. I of course changed my plans of canning pear halves and went home to make preserves instead.
I was new to canning back then and didn’t know the difference between jam and preserves. I just immediately looked through my canning books and internet recipes to find a “pear preserve recipe.” They all read much the same; pears, sugar, bottled lemon juice and a box of pectin. I peeled and cut up pears into “small chunks” as called for, and quickly mixed up a batch of my first “pear preserves”. I was back at my grandfather’s within 48 hours with what I had made. PawPaw was happy to see me and gratefully accepted my jars with a sweet smile. But, what I had made for him was nothing like the genuine pear preserves he had in mind.
The next week he called to let me know he had picked another bucket of pears for me. I figured he must have picked them so I could get my pear halves put away. But, when I got to PawPaw’s house I found that freshly picked bucket on the front porch with a copy of Mawmaw’s Pear Preserve recipe sitting on top. He didn’t say a word about it. He never spoke unnecessary words.
There is no telling how long it took him to find that card. There was a cabinet in his dinette stocked full of recipe card boxes, 57 years worth of them. I am so very grateful that he took the time and found this one. It is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. When I finished making my first batch of these old style preserves, I was amazed by the depth of flavor and consistency. Most importantly, Pawpaw approved! His gentle suggestion and time spent searching for the recipe was rewarded with delicious genuine Old-fashioned Pear Preserves.
PawPaw has gone now and is with his beloved “preserve maker” in the sweet by-and-by. I will never pick pears or can these sweet sweet preserves without thinking of the two of them.
My pear pickers these days are my two sweet boys and their Dad. This year they picked a ridiculous amount of pears from our neighbor’s tree. We canned two very large batches of preserves: one of MawMaw’s classic preserves and one with added spices.
It takes a while to make them. But these slow and sweet preserves are the most delicious thing you could possibly make with pears. I hope you and your loved ones enjoy them as much as our family has.
- 2 parts sliced pears
- 1 part sugar
- lemons, 1/2 lemon per 6 cups sliced pears
- Spices (cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean, cardamom…)
- Core pears however you choose. The method pictured might not be the safest, but it was fast and easy. We have skipped coring before, and cut around the cores. But, there was more waste and more cutting involved.
- Drop cored pears in a bucket of water with a bit of lemon juice or citric acid to prevent browning.
- Peel and slice pears 1/8″ thick.
- Measure sliced pears and add 1 part sugar to 2 parts pears.
- Combine pears with sugar in a stainless steel pot, cover and let them rest/macerate over night. The juice will pull from the pears and in the morning you will have pear slices in syrup, ready to cook.
- Just before cooking thinly slice lemons (peel and all). Add 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced, per 6 cups of pears. You can double the amount of lemon if you’d like more citrus flavor. You can also drop in a sachet with cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean or cardamom if you want to add a bit more flavor.
- Bring mixture to a high simmer or low boil over medium heat. The higher your temperature, the more frequently you will need to stir. If the simmer is too low, it will take you 4 hours to cook them. A large batch usually takes at least 2 & 1/2 hours.
- Stir occasionally and start checking for desired consistency after 1 & 1/2 hours. Stir and check them every 15-20 minutes. The preserves are finished when the pears have turned rose, then to light garnet colored and are transparent. PawPaw’s advice on judging the cooking time was “Cook them until they start to get tough.” They don’t actually get “tough,” they just develop a more substantial bite. The amount of cooking time varies depending on the size of your batch, diameter of your pot and thickness of your slices. Plan on large batches cooking for 2-3 hours. They are worth the wait!
- Wash canning jars and have them ready and hot, resting in your water bath canner.
- When the preserves are done, ladle the pears into hot jars. There will be plenty of extra syrup that can be canned in separate jars and used like honey. We call it “pear honey”. Process the preserves and “pear honey” in a water bath canner for 10 minutes, following these instructions from the National Center for Food Preservation. https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_processing_j_j.pdf
- Let jars rest for 24 hours after canning.