One summer in my childhood, the pears arrived in small, 7-litre boxes rather than the much larger, 2-foot wide cases. My mom bought five boxes. When they ripened, we started canning pears. My brothers and I each got one box to peel and my mom peeled the other two. I still remember the four of us sitting around the kitchen table, eating pear peelings as we worked through our boxes.
Every fall, Mom canned peaches, pears, cherries, applesauce and apple pie filling from our own apples, raspberry and saskatoon jam from our own berries, ketchup, pickles and relish from our own cucumbers, pumpkin from our own pumpkins.
I remember the hours of work she put into the jars I helped haul down into our root cellar. My brothers and I were mostly willing helpers, as long as we could snack on fruit peelings. When the jars were ready to put away, I had the job of creating fancy labels, worthy of Mom’s work in canning pears and other foods for us.
Last week, when I walked into our local green grocer, I saw a box of pears that took me back to my childhood. Bartlett pears, in fact—the ones Mom watched for, as they were the best for canning (just as freestone peaches are). She waited until the fruit was in season and on sale at the local grocery store, and then she’d show up and pick up cases, as much as she thought she could put away in a day or two.
I peered into this box, wondering what I would do with so many pears, and then I bought it.
I ate a few pears and baked muffins with a scrumptious recipe I got from my neighbour. There was still most of a box of pears on the counter, attracting my swarm of fruit flies. I called Mom. How hard is it to try canning pears? Easy, she said, and outlined the process for me. I googled it the next day and found myself surprised that it was just the way I had remembered it.
When Mom was doing most of her home canning, I wasn’t really paying attention to how she did it, other than how many pears I had to peel or how many peaches I had to slice. By the time I might have learned how to do it myself, Mom was canning less and I had started university.
Now, I look at canned fruit in the store and think it’s so expensive. At the same time, I remember the hours of work that Mom put into feeding our family for the winter. Do I want to try learning that for myself? Before this box of pears, I didn’t think so.
With a few more phone calls to my mom, I peeled, cored, sliced and canned my box of bears. My husband looked on, a bit dubious (especially as I bought jars, a bigger pot, and other canning tools). He wondered why I’d go to all this work of canning pears when I could just buy canned pears on sale. I was actually surprised by how easy it was to can pears.
When I was done, and the jars were neatly lined up on the counter, I was pleased with my work. And once he tasted the pears, my husband was a convert too. I think store-canned pears may be processed when they are slightly green, making them crisper in the can. My home-canned pears were processed when they were perfectly ripe, so that they were sweet and soft in the cans. My husband liked them so much that I was tempted to put a lock on the pantry to keep him out of them.
If you’ve also got access to cases of fruit, or have considered canning fruit yourself, I encourage you to give it a try. There are plenty of tutorials online to get you started. While investing in a few canning tools and jars at the start can seem expensive, it will pay itself off as you keep canning. Your whole family will love the home-canned goodness as much as mine does!
Have you ever tried canning pears or other fruit? Do you have memories of your mom or grandma canning?