Canning preserves the flavors of summer

Canning preserves the flavors of summer.
By : 
Iris Clark Neumann
Food for the Neighborhood

Two big bags of pears had been deposited near my front door after my son visited his cousins over the weekend. I was uncertain what I'd do with them, but because they came from my late sister-in-law Debbie's pear tree, I wanted to do something special.

But Mondays and Tuesdays are busy with harvesting and farmers market preparations. Having a picnic to attend back home on Saturday, we'd decided to have an early weekend at the cabin.

Leaving on Wednesday resulted in neglecting getting things done back home. I like to leave my house reasonably clean, so coming home isn't depressing.

I wash sheets and towels after having cabin guests.  Since we'd had company of six grandkids the weekend before, I had to scramble to get it done before returning to the cabin.

With our very dry weather, soaking my garden and flowers beds was one task I'd had to include.

I looked at the two black bags of pears and picking one of them, asked grandson Noah, who was coming up with us, to load the pears into two buckets. He was anxious to leave and had been asking if there was anything he could do to help.

Karen, one of the vendors at the market, had been selling her early pears that Tuesday. Contemplating the pears by my door, I had asked her how she cans hers. She has two pear trees, and the early one has small pears, like mine were.

“Do you peel them?” I asked.

Yes, she nodded, and explained her technique.

One nice thing about being at the cabin is that all the projects back home demanding my attention are out of reach. So I can take a couple of buckets of tiny pears with me and focus on a solution.

Because the kitchen at the cabin feels like a dark hole with the remodeling still in progress, I devised an operation of halving, peeling and coring pears out on the shaded deck.

And because I had two days to work, I processed one bucket of pears into pint jars of pear halves the first day. I didn't really want to calculate how much time it took me, as I saw it as a way of remembering Debbie.

I never knew she'd planted a pear tree. When I posted on our family Facebook page my day's accomplishment, her daughter Whitney was happy. She explained how her mom had been so excited to have one pear to pick the first year.

The second day I followed the same process and produced seven more pints of pears. After finishing, I admitted to myself the project had taken three hours. If I was selling jars of pears at the market, how much would I'd need to sell them for?

OK, there is no plan to be selling them, since I was thinking more in terms of giving them to Debbie's children, nieces and nephews at Christmas.

During the prep time on the deck, our basset hound, Delilah, had hung by my chair begging for pear peelings to be dropped so she could eat them. She loves eating fresh veggies during the summer; her favorites are cucumbers, beans, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts. The pear skins must have seemed like dessert.

Back home, I looked into the other bag and knew I'd have to work fast if I planned to can the rest of them, because they were ripening quickly. But I needed to get it all done in one day instead of two.

I tried the trick of sitting on my deck as I pared and cut them up, but it wasn't quite the same. It seemed like I'd been working forever, my back hurt, and it wasn't quite as breezy and cool next to the cul-de-sac. At least, I'd decided half of them didn't need peeling, since I'd be turning them into pear butter. I had found a recipe for it in “So Easy to Preserve,” a very comprehensive guide on proper home canning techniques, published by the Cooperative Extension, University of Georgia.

While heating the pears in light sugar syrup, I started cooking the unpeeled pears in a big kettle on the back burner. The recipe had described adding only enough water to keep the pears from sticking. After they started cooking, I realized I'd added a bit too much water.

It had gotten rather late by the time the last jars of pear halves were pulled out of the canner. But I was determined to continue the project and sieve out the pear pulp cooking in the big kettle.

Once that task was completed, I conceded it was too late to continue, so I poured the applesauce-like pears into a plastic container and put it in the fridge.

Monday morning I reconvened my pear session and cooked an almost double batch of pear butter. Because I'd added a bit too much water when cooking the pears, it took longer to thicken the pear butter. I wondered if I might just toss in a package of Sure-Jell, but after reading the directions, realized it was a bit late in the game.

Thinking about giving jars of pear butter away at Christmas, I processed it in smaller sized canning jars — half and quarter pints.

Today, after storing away the pints of pear halves and smaller jars of pear butter, I moved forward to turn tomato puree, cooked and sieved at the cabin, into spaghetti sauce. Late this evening, I pulled seven quart jars of dill pickles from the canning kettle.

Tomorrow, I will be heading back to the cabin, but this weekend I think I'll relax.      

But then, what about all those tomatoes left after market, what could I make next?


Pear Butter

Makes about four half-pint jars

2 quarts pear pulp (about 20 medium, fully ripe pears)

4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

1/3 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or substitute cinnamon)

To prepare pulp — Quarter and core pears. Cook until soft, adding only enough water to prevent sticking. Press through a sieve or food mill, discarding skins.

Add remaining ingredients, heat until mixture boils gently. Cook until thick, about 15 minutes. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Have sterilized canning jars and lids ready. Pour hot butter into hot jars, leaving a one-quarter inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process for five minutes in a boiling water bath.

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Pickling Cucumbers

Pickling cucumbers 2 to 3 inches long, preferred (longer ones may be cut into spears

Yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices

Garlic cloves, peeled

Carrot spears (Either peel and cut into 4-inch long spears or scrub tiny garden carrots, leave whole or halve lengthwise

Dill seed heads or dill seed

Mustard seed

Pickle crisp


6 cups white vinegar, 5 percent acidity

6 cups water

1/2 cup canning salt

To make pickles: Wash and scrub cucumbers to remove spines. Slice 1/16-inch from blossom end and discard. Mix together brine ingredients in a large kettle, heat to boiling, then lower heat.

Assemble ingredients, then begin packing into hot sterilized quart jars.

Place a slice of onion, 1 or 2 garlic cloves and a large head of dill at the bottom of the canning jar. Pack an upright ring of pickling cucumbers around bottom of jar, tuck several carrot spears between cucumbers. Add another chunk of dill, then add more cucumbers, packing in tightly. A tablespoon of dill seed per quart can be substituted for dill heads. Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1/4 teaspoon pickle crisp to each jar. Pour hot brine into jars to 1/2 inch from top. Wipe rims, then screw sterilized cover with rim on tight.

Process jars in boiling water bath for ten minutes.

Store jars for six to eight weeks before opening to allow flavors to develop.