Every year for nearly 15 years, I’ve had the pleasure of harvesting pears from an old Bartlett tree in my next door neighbor’s front yard. I will be the first to admit they are not very attractive fruits on the outside, certainly not what you expect to see at the supermarket or wrapped in beautiful foil and presented in a Harry & David fruit basket. Remove that vision from your head! Weather conditions and wind tend to give these pears an outer skin with a rather mottled appearance, and I’m being kind. They look as though they have made it through a long hard spring and summer battle, but as you know looks can be extremely deceiving. When that outside protective coat is peeled away, I have incredible pear perfection. These have loads of juice that get all over your hands when you peel them and you’ve got a terrific stickiness that reminds you of being a kid. This year, I picked just over 2 dozen fruits and allowed them to further ripen for about 4 days at room temperature on my kitchen counter. I took that time to begin dreaming of what I would make with them.
A couple of years ago, I made pear preserves, one of my favorites because it reminds me of my Grandmother. I’ve made pear chutney, pear tarts, poached them in wine, sliced them into salads, and nestled them in crumbles. Last year, I made pear butter (from The Complete Southern Cookbook) which is my version of apple butter made with a pear substitute. This year, I envisioned Pear Honey. Yesterday, I knew the pears were ready to use because they were still firm around what I call the “belly,” but starting to soften just a bit at the neck. Armed with a sharp paring knife, I peeled, cored and coarsely chopped each fruit and dropped them into a large heavy Dutch oven. I added sugar, the juice of one lemon and a dusting of ground cinnamon, then allowed it to simmer away on my stovetop for about 1-1/2 hours, stirring every time the aroma brought me back to the kitchen. My house smelled like fall and was nothing short of intoxicating.
The result of that endeavor is marvelous and not overly sweet like preserves, but still underlines and accents the subtle pear flavor. George and I feasted on it this morning over Belgian waffles, but the concoction would be equally at home spooned over scoops of vanilla ice cream or topped on slices of toasted pound cake or Angel food cake. It would sing on a hot buttered biscuit. Add a slice of salty country ham and you’ve got a Southern opus. A bonus is that I have jars of homemade goodness to share with friends now or to save as holiday gifts … if I can hide the extra jars from George and if it survives that long! So let this be a lesson in kitchen life. Take another look at looks. Perhaps the most picture perfect foods aren’t the best in flavor … think about tomatoes in the winter that look great but have about as much flavor as a plain rice cake. Those little “ugly ducklings” have value and I’ve got 16 jars of Pear Honey to prove it!
Feel free to cut this recipe in half if you don’t have as many pears as originally called for but make sure you use only those that are fully ripe. If you don’t want to process the jars in a boiling water bath, refrigerate after they have cooled.
Yield: 16 (4-ounce) jars or 10 (6-ounce) jars
24-26 ripe pears, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
4 cups sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (1-1/2 tablespoons)
1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Place the pears and sugar in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and stir frequently until the sugar melts and the mixture just begins to boil. Add the lemon juice and cinnamon and decrease the heat to medium. Simmer uncovered for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, prepare the boiling water bath canner and heat the canning jars. Spoon the warm pear honey into the jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the rims and cover with the flat lid and ring. Place in boiling water in the canner for 5 minutes. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely, away from drafts.