by David Cecelski
Cooks everywhere are overwhelmed with pears just now. Me, too. The other day, my brother left us 4 or 5 grocery bags full of Kiefer pears from his tree. They’re a good, hard pear that has a long shelf life for eating fresh. A cross between a Chinese sand pear and a Bartlett, Kiefers were very popular in Southern orchards early in the 20th century because they are resistant to fire blight, a bacterial disease that inflicts European varieties like Anjou, Bartlett, and Bosc when they’re grown in humid climes.
We love our Kiefer pears fresh, but we can only eat so many a day. So my wife and daughter made two big pots of pear sauce last week and this week my son and I put up 2 batches of preserves. It was his first time sterilizing the jars and lids and filling them with the hot pears and syrup.
The traditional recipe for pear preserves is very simple. Use 1 lb. of sugar for every 2 quarts of peeled, cored, and sliced pears. Layer the pears with sugar in a big pot and let them sit overnight, so that they make their own juice. Cook them over medium heat until they boil and then simmer until the pears are tender and the syrup has the desired consistency and color. Stir occasionally. Pour the pears into hot, sterilized jars, cover with syrup, and seal.
To me the best thing about pear preserves is the colors. They can be a lovely dark salmon or coral or, if cooked longer, amber, cinnabar, or burnt umber, maybe even what you might call a Persian red. The only ingredients are the pears and sugar, so the color is wholly a result of how long you let the pears and sugar simmer together. The longer they cook, the darker the preserves.
I love to eat pear preserves with biscuits or as the jelly in peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches. They also make a wonderful pie filling. I have to confess that, more than anything, I just like to see the way a Ball jar full of the preserves looks on my pantry shelf in the morning light.
Photos by Vera and David Cecelski