Although my mother never canned her pears with cinnamon candies, I remember eating some that someone else had canned. They were a pretty, rosy color, but awfully sweet. I’ve never been fond of overly-sweet, and I’ve become less so the older I get. I usually can my pears in a light syrup, and a couple of years ago, I tried a recipe I found online, pears in a brown sugar syrup with ginger matchsticks. (You can find that recipe, and several others that I still like very much, on my Pears, Pears, Pears post.) Gingered pears sound good, right? Well, they were, the first year. Typically, home-canned fruit is good for years (and yes, I’ve eaten fruit ten years in the jar that still tasted good, so I know whereof I speak). But after the first year with the gingered pears, I found that the ginger didn’t taste good, and I didn’t like the flavor of the pears all that much either. But I really liked the brown sugar syrup for a couple of reasons that I’ll go into below.
I didn’t have time to go out and forage like I normally do, so I didn’t think I was going to can pears this year. But when I was gifted some pears by my brother and sister-in-law this week, I decided to try something a little different. I already knew I was going to use the brown sugar syrup, and here’s one reason why. I like the flavor of the brown sugar with the pears, kind of caramel-y. But the other reason has to do with darkening of the fruit.
I always treat my pears before canning them, with either acidulated water (about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to a half-gallon of water), or with Fruit Fresh. If I use Fruit Fresh, I use about a tablespoon to a half-gallon of water. This works well to prevent darkening for a while, but I am so slow these days with any task requiring any manual dexterity (my hands are badly damaged by arthritis), the fruit still darkens a bit despite the pretreating. Brown sugar syrup hides any darkening. The fruit looks pretty in the jars, pretty in a bowl, and tastes delicious. So, a brown sugar syrup it is.
At this point, I have to interject a comment about a tool. Years ago, I found this little gadget in a box of kitchen tools in an antique store. I’m always trolling through those, looking for old vegetable peelers. (My favorite peeler is in the picture below. The old ones are so much sharper than the kind you can buy now.) I picked up the unfamiliar tool and looked and looked at it, wondering what it was. And then the shape told me. It is a pear corer. Pears can’t be cored on an apple corer. They are too soft, and the shape is wrong. I’ve only ever been able to do it properly with a small paring knife like the one in the photo, and it is so hard on my hands. I bought the pear corer and stashed it in a drawer and forgot about it. I found it last winter when I was boxing up the kitchen cabinets and drawers in preparation for the kitchen remodel. I made a mental note to try it if I did get any pears to can this year. And I’m here to tell you, be on the lookout for one of these. It worked beautifully! After I cut the fruit in half lengthwise, the narrow end of the corer scraped out the blossom scar on the bottom and removed the strings that run down to the core from the stem. (Canning books tell you remove them because they will darken in the jar and look unattractive.) The large end scoops out the core like a melon baller.
Now, back to the syrup. As I was looking up the processing time for pears in my old Ball Blue Book, my eye lit on that old recipe for Cinnamon Pears using the cinnamon candies. I’m not a fan of adding artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives to my home-canned foods, but cinnamon pears sounded so good. And then a light bulb flashed on above my head. Why not add cinnamon sticks to my brown sugar syrup?
But, here’s the thing. You can’t can cinnamon sticks in anything in a hot water bath process, and I’m not even sure it would be safe to can them in a pressure canner. I knew that if I was going to infuse any cinnamon into my syrup, it was going to have to simmer for a while. So I made up my light syrup (2 cups of brown sugar, light or dark, to 1 quart of water), added five whole cinnamon sticks (unbroken, to keep any small pieces out of the pears), brought it to a boil, and then simmered it until I was ready to add the pears to briefly cook them for a hot pack. My syrup ended up simmering with the lid on for at least an hour. When I needed to make another batch of syrup, I just reused those same cinnamon sticks. (And I saved them and put them in the freezer to add to a batch of chai kombucha I’ll be making in a week or so.)
The pears I was canning looked green but were sweet and tasty, and I think I could have gone with an extra-light syrup (1 cup of brown sugar to 1 quart of water). And before you wig out too much about the sugar in the syrups that you can fruit in, remember that sugar is a preservative, and if you are canning enough fruit to last for a couple of years (I usually do), it’s better to use a light, rather than extra-light, syrup. If your fruit is tart (like the red plums I did last year in extra-light syrup), a light syrup is better. As a young friend of mine recently found out, canning fruit in water results in a not-so-tasty product that has a much shorter shelf life.
Here they are: pears in brown sugar and cinnamon syrup. I’ve already opened the little jar to taste, and need I say it? Well, yeah, I have to. YUM! Sweet, but not too sweet, with that caramel flavor of brown sugar and the warming spice of cinnamon. As for the cinnamon, five sticks gave a cinnamon flavor, but not very strong. Next time, I might put in a couple more. If you do, let me know.
Oh, and don’t throw away that delicious syrup. You can add it to selzer water for a fabulous spritzer. (That’s what I did last night, after my canning session.) For a cocktail, I think a shot of rum with a little of that syrup might be really good. You could add fizzy water to that, too. Or you can reduce the syrup and put it on pancakes or waffles. Mmmm. I might do that with the syrup I saved from the little jar.
As a bonus, I saved the pear peelings and cores for a small batch of pear vinegar. I made some a few years ago, and it was one of the best vinegars I’ve ever made. If you’re interested in vinegar-making, see my Waste Not, Want Not post.