Joni Woolf: Praise for the lowly pear
Published 10:57 am Monday, August 5, 2019
Mid-summer is gone, and as fall approaches, pears begin to fall to the ground. Seen in grocery stores all the time, pears are often considered fruit for salad or an occasional snack. They are seldom promoted as preserved food with the same enthusiasm as the peach, the fruit for which our state is famous. Pears are the stepchild of summer fruits, and often passed over for preserving. Perhaps we need to take another look. Consider, for instance, that even if we don’t have a pear tree in our yard, many of our friends and neighbors do, and they are willing to share, providing free fruit for our pleasure. This is how I came upon my recent stash of pears. My friend Abbie Dillard had a good number fall from her tree, and passed them on. So, I decided to look beyond the simple pear/sugar recipe of the past and see what I might find.
In the end, I made up my own recipe, but it is similar to one found in Georgia on my Plate Cookbook, published by the Macon Telegraph during the 1996 Olympics in our state. It is simple.
4 cups pears, peeled and chopped
4 cups sugar
2 lemons, sliced
1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple, undrained
Cover chopped pears with sugar, and let sit for several hours. Bring to a slow boil (never cook preserves at high temperature) and cook until pears reach temperature of 220 degrees F. on candy thermometer. Stir occasionally. Add crushed pineapple and lemon slices and return to boil. Place preserves in hot, sterilized jars (I use ½-pint size, a good size for gift-giving), seal, and place in enough boiling water to cover and process 10 minutes. (Note: the addition of pineapple and lemon gives the pears the boost they need for a full flavor.)
One of my oldest recipes is for Pear Chutney, given to me by Mrs. Malcolm Everett (Nettie Ward to her friends), in her own handwriting, now 50 years old. Mrs. Everett made this famous chutney (famous in Macon in the 1950s and beyond) for the annual bazaar at St. Paul’s Church, where it immediately sold out. It is a fine complement to Thanksgiving turkey or hen, and is also quite good with pork roast. There really is nothing quite like it. It’s time to make it again.
Pear Chutney (can also be made with apples, but she preferred pears)
4 lbs. of pears, peeled and sliced
3 lbs. brown sugar
2 lbs. seedless raisins
4 oz. ground ginger
1 ½ oz. garlic powder
¼ oz. cayenne pepper
1 quart cider vinegar
Salt to taste
Combine pears and brown sugar, and cook on stove top to consistency of jam. Add remaining ingredients and boil about 6 minutes. Add a quart of cider vinegar and stir well. Transfer mixture to an enamel dishpan (these days, most of us don’t have enamel dishpans, but any large container, such as a roasting pan used for turkeys, will work) and put in oven. Cook at 325 degrees F., stirring occasionally, for about 1½ hours. Pack in hot, sterilized jars.
The Junior Service League of Americus published a fine cookbook in 1976, that has become a staple in many homes. It offers a compelling variety of recipes of every kind, including several using pears. So, rounding out today’s recipes using local pears is their recipe for Pear Relish (one of two offered in the cookbook); this one submitted by Alice F. Gyles.
3 lbs. pears
7 large green peppers
¼ cup salt
2 cups white vinegar
1 tsp. turmeric
1 ½ lbs. small white onions
1 sweet red pepper
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seed
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pare and core the pears and work them through the medium blade of a grinder. Measure 5 cups of pear puree in a large bowl. Peel the onions. Remove the seeds and core from the peppers and work the vegetables through the medium blade of grinder. Measure 6½ cups of the mixture and combine it with the pears and salt. Let stand about 4 hours, then drain well. In a large enamel or stainless steel pan combine the remaining ingredients. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes and add the pear mixture. Simmer for 5 minutes, then spoon into hot dry jars and seal. (Note: A food processor can be used in place of grinder.)
Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org