Today I am putting the cart before the horse. I am going to talk about using our homegrown pears, and then later this week, I will talk about picking them. Sometimes things just get turned around…
To summarize (full story later), after years of waiting, we finally got a harvest of pears from our two backyard trees. It was like Christmas in August.
When I saw the fruit laden branches early in the summer, I was itching to harvest. But I didn’t know how to tell when pears are ripe (they should be picked hard–no clues there, nor did I remember the variety to look it up). So every week from mid-July on, I went outside, pulled down a single pear, tested it’s removal resistance (ripe pears will snap off the branch with a light nudge), set it on the counter top for a couple days, then tasted. Finally, the last week in August I decided they were ready.
Inspired by this Denver Post article, I wanted to can some of the pears in a spiced wine syrup. A couple years ago, I made orange sections in a simple sugar syrup and we were disappointed at the watery flavor when we opened the jars. So looking for a flavor boost, I created a wine-based sugar syrup with vanilla and ginger.
Now, at this point, I need to warn you that you shouldn’t alter tested recipes when it comes to canning. A little change in the acidity of the final product and you can create a jar full of deadly botulism toxin. But in this particular case, the recipe is essentially pears in a medium sugar syrup–with some of the water swapped out for more acidic white wine, so I can’t think of how it could be a problem. If you are uncomfortable (and I wouldn’t blame you a bit)–or just aren’t ready to tackle canning, the canning part is unnecessary. Just cook up the pears in syrup, store them in the refrigerator and eat within a few days. (Since it makes a lot, if you aren’t canning you might halve the recipe then and drink the leftover wine 😉 ) And I must confess some of our pears in syrup got eaten right on the spot!
If you have never canned before, take a look at some of the sources that teach the basic process first. There are many online sites that are excellent resources–I tend to like university sites like the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation (which has my very favorite salsa canning recipe) or Colorado State. There are also good canning cookbooks that cover how to can.
Pears in Gingered White Wine
Makes about 8 pints or 4 quarts
- 1 bottle dry white wine
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced in thick slices
- 10-11 lbs pears (avoid Asian pears which are unsafe without extra acidification)
1. Halve pears, then scoop out seeds with a 1/4 t metal measuring spoon. Use a knife to cut out stem and blossom end. Dip cut side in lemon juice to keep from discoloring.
2. Add wine, water, sugar and ginger to a medium saucepan. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and add both the seeds and the pods halves to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar, then turn down heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and ginger chunks.
3. Add the pears to the hot syrup and poach for about 5 minutes. Fill sterilized jars with hot fruit and cooking liquid leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any trapped air bubbles by sliding a knife or spatula between the food and the sides of the jar. Add more liquid if needed to obtain the proper headspace. Wipe jar rim with a clean, dampened cloth to remove any food particles. Place preheated lid on the jar and screw down the metal band fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts, adjusting for altitude if over 1000 ft. Check seals after removal (see canning resources above for more detail on how to do any of this). If any jars don’t seal, refrigerate them and eat within a few days.