Here in Minnesota autumn is really starting to show its beautiful face: the trees are beginning to dapple their amazing colors throughout the river valley, squirrels are out foraging with annoying ferocity, mums are in bloom and the weather is beginning to cool (except for this weekend where it is forecasted to be in the 80s).
Fall can be such a busy time of year. Much like the millions of gray squirrels in my neighborhood, my household is also beginning to “forage” food for the winter. Fall in our home is a busy canning time: tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, carrots, potatoes, etc. and the squash will soon be ready to harvest out of the garden. But my absolute favorite food to can in the fall are fresh pears.
Described as “a gift from the Gods” in Homer’s Odyssey pears are not only delicately juicy, they are packed with vital nutrients. Filled with Vitamins C and K, dietary fiber and antioxidants, pears are good for your heart, your waistline, your digestive system and your blood sugar (they are a low GI fruit). Pears are also one of the only hypoallergenic fruits available. With just 100 calories per pear you really can’t go wrong having one for you afternoon snack. As a bonus, with a few pounds of pears and an afternoon to process you can preserve your fall harvest of pears to enjoy all winters long…my favorite way to preserve pears is in a sauce, it is amazingly simple and oh so delicious.
We have two young pear trees in our backyard but they have yet to produce any fruit (fingers crossed for next year). However, we are fortunate enough to have neighbors who are over run with crab-pears this time of year so we go forage in their yard. If you do not have access to an actual pear tree check out your local farmers’ market or food co-op, they are bound to have some in stock. I ended up with around 14 pounds of pears by the time I was finished coring and cubing them so the following recipe will go off of that amount, but the amounts can easily be changed.
- 14 lbs. of pears
- Corn starch
- Sugar (optional)
- Collect pears
- Wash, core and cut them into 1” cubes (do not peel them)
- Place all of your pear chunks into a large stock pot and add 1 cup of water for every seven pounds of pears
- Uncovered, bring water to a boil stirring often so your pears don’t burn to the bottom
- Once the pears are soft and separated from the skin (about 10-15 minutes) turn off the heat and blend with an immersion blender (or allow the pears to cool and transfer them to a blender in batches)
- Once your pears are all blended and cooled, give them a taste
The types of pears you use will determine the sweetness of the sauce, this is where you can add sugar if you want to. The pears I used were a crab-pear and incredibly tart, although the reduction process sweetened them up a little bit I did add ONE CUP of sugar – that’s right, 1 cup of sugar for 14 lbs. of pears. A little bit goes a long way. After everything is blended and tastes to your liking you may notice that the consistency is a little runny. A watery sauce is apparently a sign of overcooked fruit.
You can wait for the sauce to cool and hope it thickens or you can add what is called a slurry (which is what I did). To make a slurry mix one Tablespoon of cornstarch into one cup cold water and stir until completely blended. Pour your slurry into your sauce and mix completely then heat your sauce back up to a boil, mix some more and then remove from heat, cover and cool.
This is the point where the preservation process really starts. There are two ways to preserve your pear sauce: in the freezer or in a hot water bath, both of which I will explain.
- Ladle your sauce into clean pint or quart sized canning jars leaving ¼” to a ½” of headspace at the top (it is preferable to use freezer safe jars but with my method of freezing this is not a necessity).
- Cover your jars with saran wrap and screw on the metal rings (this will allow any excess sauce to escape during the freezing process instead of bursting your jars)
- Place the jars in the refrigerator until they are completely cool (putting hot liquids directly into the freezer is not only hard on the freezer itself but can also cause the glass to crack)
- Label them and move them into the freezer leaving the saran wrap on until they are completely frozen. Once they are frozen you can replace the saran wrap with the metal lids. Your sauce will keep for about a year in the freezer.
*If you would like to use this pear sauce as a food for your baby or toddler freeze the sauce in ice cube trays instead
To Water-Bath Can:
Directions courtesy of Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff
- Wash out your canning jars and keep them hot in your canning pot, and put the flat lids in a heat proof bowl
- Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids
- Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars form the canning pot and carefully pour the water from each jar back into the pot
- Place you sanitized jars upright on a folded towel
- Ladle the hot pear sauce into each jar leaving ½” headspace
- Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rim of the jars clean
- Place a hot metal lid onto the top of the jar and “finger tighten” a metal ring
- Return the jars to the hot water bath in the canning pot making sure the water covers all of the jars by at least 1”
- Bring the water to a boil and process your jars for 15 minutes
- Carefully remove the jars to the towel and do not disturb them for at least 12 hours
- After 1 hour check that the lids have sealed by pressing down in the center; if it can be pushed down it hasn’t sealed and should be refrigerated immediately
- Label the sealed jars and store in a cool dark place
This delicious sauce can be enjoyed as a snack (topped off with cinnamon, of course), baked into cakes and muffins or served with the most decadent of dinners. We also love to give it away as a gift; you can’t believe how much people appreciate homemade preserves. Picking pears and canning them is a fun way to spend time with the whole family or recruit your best group of friends to come over for a drinking/preserving party. I hope you enjoy all of the nutritious bounty fall has to offer.