Our neighbors have a beautiful pear tree that's over 50 years old, and each year they invite us to share in the harvest. Big tree = many, many pears, so over the years I've used many different ways to preserve pears. No matter how you store them – canning, freezing, drying, freeze drying or fermenting – their high sugar content makes them a naturally decadent dessert. In this post I'll cover both short term and long term storage options.
How to Store Pears without Processing
Pick pears before they are mature but not fully ripe, then allow them to ripen off the tree. If you leave them on the tree to ripen, they tend to spoil from the inside out. The outside looks good, but when you cut them open, the inside is soft and brown.
For longest storage – keep unripe pears at 30 °F (-1.1 °C) and 85-90% humidity. Fresh, unripe pears will hold in these conditions for 2-5 months, depending on the variety. The high sugar content of pears acts as a natural antifreeze.
Good storage pear varieties:
- Winter Nelis
These varieties should keep 3-5 months. Bartletts should keep 2-3 months in optimal conditions. Pears can be rock hard straight off the tree and still ripen beautifully in storage.
The firmer the pear, the better it typically will hold in storage. Temps colder than 30°F will damage the pears, warmer temps will speed up ripening. Even if you don't intend to keep the pears very long, brief chilling will improve the flavor. Most store pears have already been chilled during transport and are ready to ripen. The longer the time spent in cold storage, the more quickly the pears will ripen at room temp.
A spare fridge or walk in cooler is ideal, although I found that the new mini fridge we purchased for storage does not work well because it is too airtight. Ethylene gas cannot escape, and food tends to spoil. My husband's old dorm fridge worked better, but it died at around 25 years of service.
It's best to lay out your fruit in shallow bins or containers that you can inspect regularly. Remove any fruit that shows signs of spoilage and use or preserve pears via another method. Once ripe, pears should be used within a couple of days.
How to Keep Cut Pears from Getting Brown
There are several ways to help keep your cut pears from getting brown. These can be used for cut pears you plan to eat soon, or as pre-treatment before any of the types of storage. Pears are sliced and peeled (if desired), then dipped in one of the following solutions:
- 1/2 cup lemon juice per gallon of water
- pineapple juice,orange juice or other acidic juices – full strength, or diluted by half with water
- 2 tablespoons salt per gallon of water
- 1 tablespoon citric acid per gallon of water
No matter what treatment you use, it will only slow down browning, not completely prevent it. It's best to work in batches or get some help for processing so pears don't sit too long cut.
Preserve Pears by Drying – How to Dehydrate Pears
If you don't have cold storage, dehydrating is probably the next easiest way to preserve pears. Due to their high sugar content, pears take quite a while to dry, roughly 10 to 24 hours. The resulting dried fruit is very sweet, like pear candy. Some people think it resembles the taste of caramel. Pears should be dehydrated at 135 ºF/57 ºC overnight or until fruit is dry and leatherlike. Pretreating will help keep the pears from browning, but is not required. Store dehydrated pears in an airtight container.
For detailed step by step instructions on drying pears at home, see the post How to Make Pear Candy.
Preserve Pears by Freezing
Again, this is a super easy pear storage method. Like most of my pear storage, I prefer to peel, quarter and pre-treat the pears before freezing to keep them form browning. If you like to be able to pour out a small amount of pears from your freezer storage, freeze the fruit on trays first. After fruit is frozen solid, pack in zip top freezer bags or freezer containers, or vacuum seal for longer storage.
You may also pack sliced pears in sugar syrup (see below) or juice in containers and freeze.
For a light syrup, use 2 1/4 cups sugar and 5 1/4 cups water. You may also substitute honey for the sugar and reduce the amount to 1 cup, or can the pears in apple or pear juice. Spices, such as a cinnamon stick, may be added to each jar or container during canning or freezing. For 7 quarts of pears, I used a little less than 2 batches of light syrup and 18 pounds of pears.
How to Can Pears Cold Pack or Hot Pack
It's generally recommended that pears be gently heated in syrup before being packed in jars, but I have raw packed very ripe pears to keep them from turning to mush. To can pears, you should use a water bath canner.
- 2 to 3 pounds per quart
- Light syrup or juice
Fill canner with hot water to about 3/4 full. Water level should be one to two inches above jars during the canning process. Make sure jars and lids are clean. (See “How to Can Food at Home – 8 Steps for Safe Canning” for more detailed information on canning equipment and general canning tips.)
Wash and drain pears. Peel, core and cut into halves or quarters and treat to prevent darkening. Make syrup and keep hot.
To Cold Pack Can Pears:
Drain pears. Fill jars with pears, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot syrup into jars. Use thin plastic spatula or chopstick to remove air bubbles. Add extra syrup, if needed, so that jars are filled to 1/2 inch headspace.
Wipe rims and screw on two-piece lids finger tight. Process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes in a boiling water canner. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner and place on towel to cool completely. Remove rings and check seals. Wipe any spills or drips, label and store in a cool, dry location out of direct light. Use within 1 year for best quality.
To Hot Pack Can Pears:
This works best with firm, ripe pears. After pre-treating, drain pears. Heat pears in the syrup until hot throughout. Pack into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and add liquid, if needed. Process as above for cold pack.
How to Can Almond Pears
Almond pears are pears canned with almond liquor and blanches almonds for a delicate almond flavor. Check out the step by step canning instructions and recipe in the post, “Almond Pears“.
How to Freeze Dry Pears
Although pears can be freeze dried, they take a really LONG time in the freeze dryer due to their high sugar and water content. If you try it, I suggest using less ripe pears and slicing them very thinly.
To freeze dry pears – simply peel, thinly slice and treat to prevent browning. Drain completely – you may even want to pat them dry with a clean flour sack towel. Spread pears on freeze dryer trays in an even layer. Do not exceed 10 pounds total for unit. Run freeze drying cycle and check for dryness. Add extra drying time if any large pieces test cold in the center. Freeze dried pears will be slightly tacky on the surface, but the center of the fruit should be dry and crisp. Seal in a Mylar bag or vacuum sealed mason jar with oxygen absorber. Label, date and store in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight.
Cranberry Pear Jam
I like to pair pears up with other flavors in jam, since pears on their own can be very bland. Jam is good way to use up pears that are too soft for canning or drying. My favorite pear jam recipe is cranberry pear jam, which combines two favorite fall flavors. The cranberry pear jam post features both traditional and low sugar versions of the recipe.
Preserve Pears as Pear Wine
When I have more pears than I can freeze, can, dry and otherwise preserve, or if the pears get really ripe, it's time for wine! With just a few pieces of basic equipment, you can make a simple country wine right in your own kitchen. See “How to Make Pear Wine” for my pear wine making story and recipes.
Easy Pear Butter
There are a ton of pear butter recipes out there, but I like to keep mine super simple. Very ripe pears are best for pear butter. Because the pears are so naturally sweet, I don't add extra sugar. I simply core and peel the pears, cutting out any damaged spots. Pre-treating isn't needed, since the butter will turn brown with cooking. That said, adding a little lemon juice or orange juice to the pot brightens the flavor and ensures the pH is low enough for safe canning.
Place the cleaned pears in a heavy bottomed pot with a bit of water to prevent scorching. Add roughly 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or orange juice per quart of pears. Cook gently on low heat, stirring regularly, until pears are soft and smooth. Cook off excess water until desired consistency is reached, stirring more frequently as the butter gets thicker.
When you are ready to can, you may process “as is”, or add spices of choice such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla or citrus zest. Fill jars to 1/4 inch headspace and process cups or pints for 10 minutes in a water. Allow to cool on a clean towel, remove rings, wipe down and label jars. Store in a cool, dry location, out of direct sunlight.
Enjoy Your Pears Year Round!
Dried pears are great in granola or snack mixes, or baked into oatmeal or cookies. Individually frozen pears can be blended into smoothies or fruit sorbets. Canned pears make a tasty dessert straight out of the jar, or blended into smoothies. Use your imagination!
What's your favorite pear variety or way to store pears? I'd love to hear from you!
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