Beauty in a Jar

October 15, 2007 at 8:09 am 29 comments

Pears stuffed in jars ready for brine

The other week I struck gold at the Headhouse Farmers Market!  To be exact, delicious sweet little gold nuggets in the form of Seckel pears.  These itty bitty pears were just what I’d been desperate to find.  But let’s go back to the beginning first so I can explain the intensity of my delight at finding these rather old-fashioned variety of pears.

At the same time that I learned about drying corn from my grandmother earlier this summer, she also mentioned pickling pears when she was a girl, using the tiny Seckel pears that fell from the tree beside our dairy barn.   As with the dried corn and quince jam, she nearly giggled with glee at the memory of these fruity pickles.  As for me, pears – good and juicy ones – are in my top three fruits (in line with watermelon and kiwi)  so I was quite intrigued by the notion of pickling them, if only to know if they still taste like pears or if they become fat squatty pickles.  My grandmother wasn’t quite able to articulate her taste memory of them.  In fact, she couldn’t even remember for sure the method by which to pickle them.  The only thing she was certain of was that they were something she definitely liked – a lot.  I always love a good research project!

sack of seckel pears 

With my sack of Seckel pears from Headhouse in hand,  I decided to rope my mom into the project while I was visiting again with her last week.   She is indeed the queen of canning and has made more than her mess of pickles over the years.   She also happens to have an impressive collection of old “ladies club” cookbooks from things like church pollyanna groups, 4-H clubs, town bicentennials, and…The Pennsylvania State Grange.  If ever you wanted to take a trip back in time, pick up a tattered copy of a modestly bound, yet substaintially weighted, Grange cookbook.  Among several recipes for corn pone (an old-fashioned bread) and for various parts of the pig that you’d probably rather not know about, there was the coveted recipe for spiced (pickled) pears for which I had been searching high and low.   

Pears next to their fated recipe

Turns out that making pickled pears is pretty darn easy.  Stuff a jar with pears and spices, make a simple syrup with the addition of vinegar, pour it over the pears and seal them.  I have to say that the best part about this little pickling adventure was making it with my mom.  She swears that when I was younger and still living at home, I shrugged her off when she tried to teach me more about kitchen creations, saying something to the effect that someday when I lived in the city, I’d make enough money to pay people to do this for me.  I don’t remember saying that, but I was awfully keen on getting away from my family farm back in those days and thought my mom’s kitchen work rather dull.  Now I’m glad she’s still such a willing teacher and that I’m finally wise enough to soak it all up. 

My mom pours brine over pears in jar

Ironically, I still don’t know if pickled pears taste like pickles or like pears…Why haven’t I satisfied my swelling curiosity yet?  I only had enough Seckel pears to make two pints this time around, and I want to save them until the holidays.  They’re really rather festive and lovely in their antique blue Ball jars that my mom – upon swearing the blood of my firstborn – graciously allowed me to borrow.   I can’t bring myself to eat them just yet.  I need to stare at them for a few months and contemplate how that one stick of cinnamon tucked snuggly between the pears is just about the most aesthetically pleasing thing I’ve seen in a long time.  Do you I think I’m way too involved with my food sometimes? 

So, once I’ve savored the beauty of these jars of spiced pickled pears to my heart’s content, I’ll let you know how they taste.  My culinary gut says they’ll be good.   Feel free to make your own, taste them right away and report back to us all.  I don’t mind being “scooped.” 

Pears in jars upside down to seal and cool

Adapted from a Pennsylvania State Grange Cookbook (edition unknown)

2 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. water
1 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1 T. cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 t. freshly ground nutmeg
10 or 12 whole allspice berries
10 or 12 small Seckel pears (should be very ripe)
2 canning pint jars, lids and rings

Wash and dry the pears (do not peel them).  If there are any bad spots in the pears, carefully cut out just the bad part and leave the pears whole otherwise.   Sterilize jars by filling 3/4 full with water and placing in microwave to boil on high for 5 minutes.  Carefully pour out the hot water and let jars dry/cool for a minute while you make the pears.

Poke 3 or 4 cloves into each pear before carefully stuffing each jar with as many pears as possible – mine held 5 or 6.  Place a stick of cinnamon in each jar, along with 5 or 6 allspice berries. 

Combine the sugar, water, vinegar and nutmeg in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  While that’s coming to a boil, place flat canning lids in a shallow pan and boil until the syrup is also ready. 

Place a jar of pears into a bowl (this is to safeguard against getting burned should the jar crack when the hot liquid is poured into it) and use a measuring cup to fill the jar with hot syrup, leaving about 1/8 inch headspace.  Wipe the jar rims clean with a towel.  Using tongs, remove boiling lids from shallow pan and place on top of jars.  Using a kitchen towel to handle the hot jar, screw on a ring as tightly as possible.  Turn jars upside down to seal and cool.  Do not move until cool.   Test the lids to see if they’ve seal – lids should not flex at all when you press on them.  If they “pop” when you press on them, they did not seal and you’ll need to store the jar in the fridge instead of in your cupboards.   Here’s a good guide to canning if you’re not sure about something.

(makes 2 pints)

Spiced Pickled Pears

Entry filed under: Preserves, Recipes.

Divulging Secrets We’ll Always Have Gnocchi

29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pann  |  October 15, 2007 at 11:38 am

    This is a really touching post, in addition to the usual wonderful recipe and great photos. I love it that you are reaching back to your grandma’s memories, and soaking up tips from your mom. You are really lucky to have these wise women in your family sharing their food knowledge!

    I may just have to try this one myself. I’ve never canned before and this looks like a pretty easy place to start. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  • 2. Rachel  |  October 15, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    I agree, what a wonderful post. And even if the taste is not to your liking, the jars of pears truly are a thing of beauty. Maybe too pretty to even try….??? 🙂

  • 3. Jennie  |  October 15, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Pann and Rachel – I’m so glad you both enjoyed the post so much. I am indeed *very* lucky to have both my mom and grandma tutoring my kitchen adventures. I still find it odd how I could help my mother can quarts upon quarts of produce when I was a kid but didn’t really pay attention enough to do it on my own as an adult so I had to go back an humbly ask my mom for help. But what’s important, I think, is that my mom made the effort to get me invovled in the kitchen as a kid…even if I was too stubborn or dreaming of city life back then, I did soak up the general love for cooking that inspires all my recipes today.

    As for how pretty these pears are…gosh, they really are almost too pretty to eat! But I must try them for the sake of completing the experiement and passing on the results to the rest of you. What I need to do is just make more…

  • 4. ariyathe  |  October 15, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Hey.. I like your blog. My mom pickles a lot of random things. I should tell her about the pear- she’ll love it!

  • 5. taylor  |  October 15, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    We always had pickled peaches on Thanksgiving and other important meals. They’re spiced (cinnamon and whatnot) and sweet. Your cute pears should be sweet, too, when you finally open the jars.

  • 6. abarclay12  |  October 15, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    Your blog makes me thirsty. I love all the pictures of fresh foods.

  • 7. Jennie  |  October 16, 2007 at 6:26 am

    Ariyathe – Thanks! Maybe your mom has already pickled pears? If she has, let me know if she uses a similiar recipe. 🙂

    Abarclay12 – Thanks for the compliments! 🙂

  • 8. Jennie  |  October 16, 2007 at 6:28 am

    Taylor – Yep, there’s a recipe right beside the one I used for the pears for spiced (pickled) peaches. Now, is this a traditional southern holiday treat or just something your family did? Well, I’m glad to know they tasted sweet as I’m not sure I’ll be too terribly fond of sour pears. Oh, and you were right about what kind of pears these were – thanks! 🙂

  • 9. Christine  |  October 16, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    This is my favorite SFTF post so far, and it isn’t just the enchanting blue jars. (Though I am entirely jealous of your blue pint jars. I have a pair of blue quart jars that I love, but they’re the kind with the lid and bale, the ones you can’t “can.”)

    Assuming I want to pickle these and NOT wait for the holidays, what’s your best guess for how long they should “pickle”? My mom’s rule for refrigerator pickles is a week — think that applies to canned pickles too?

  • 10. Jennie  |  October 16, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks, Christine! I am very lucky to have a plentiful supply of blue jars thanks to my mom. I’ve always coveted them. 🙂

    I think these would be ready in a week, same as refrigerator pickles. The recipe didn’t say but I think it’s more about infusing the pears with the spice than it is about pickling them (although the vinegar is ensuring their presevation via pickling) so a week should be enough to let the flavors meld.

    Make them. Eat them. Report back. That’s your assignment. 🙂

  • 11. Christine  |  October 21, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    I’m going to have to try these again. They look lovely in the jar (though darker than yours – I used a cup of white sugar and a cup of brown sugar), but sadly none of my four pints sealed. I have no idea why. I brought the brine to a boil, but maybe it cooled down too much when I poured it over the pears. At any rate, I have four pints of pickled pears in my fridge, and they probably ought to be eaten within a couple months. So I’ll bring you a pint, and try another batch next weekend 😉

  • 12. Jennie  |  October 22, 2007 at 6:14 am

    Christine – That’s a shame that they didn’t seal. 😦 Did you clean the rims of the jars really well before putting the lids on? Also, did you run your finger around the jar rims to be sure none of them were chipped? I doubt that was the cause since none of the four sealed…more likely it has something to do with the heat level or brine getting between the rim and the lid. You could always try a hot water bath next time too just to be on the safe side. Let me ask my mom too for ideas.

    Oh goodie, I can’t wait to try some pickled pears and end this mystery! 🙂

  • 13. Christine  |  October 22, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    It’s definitely possible that the rims weren’t completely clean, although none of them were chipped. The syrup was so sticky that darn near everything had a thin layer by the time I was done. I’ll be more careful about that next time, and I’ll probably drop the pears into the syrup for a few minutes to bring the whole thing up to temperature before filling the jars.

    My mom suggested emptying out all the jars, bringing the whole syrup-and-pears situation to a boil, re-sterilizing the jars and filling them up again. I think they’d take to the inversion method this time around, if I’m really careful with the rims this time. I’m just not sure I want to undertake this endeavor on a weeknight 😉

    I’m slightly more inclined to wait until the weekend, break open a jar and see if I actually like the results. If I do, maybe I’ll do another batch so they’ll be pretty on my shelf instead of just tasty in my fridge.

  • 14. Jennie  |  October 23, 2007 at 6:20 am

    Christine – Well definitely keep the detailed reports coming back here…it’s good to get feedback and to learn what to do in case the jars don’t seal. My syrup wasn’t all that sticky so I’m thinking your addition of the brown sugar might have created additional stickiness. Are you using a measuring cup or ladel to carefully fill the jars?

    Taste this weekend and then come tell us all what spiced pickled pears taste like! 🙂

  • 15. Jennie  |  December 4, 2007 at 10:05 am

    An update to this post for everyone. I HAVE TASTED THE SPICED PICKLED PEARS!!! And I adore them! A little nip of vinegar when they first hit your tongue, which is then followed by the sweetness of the pears that have a little bit of crunch to them. Yum! Next year I’ll be putting up pints upon pints of these puppies. 🙂

  • 16. P. Bass  |  October 1, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    I have a pear tree in my yard, and have searched high and low for something that looks similar to the fruit growing on it, and the pictures with you post seem to match the best so far.

    I wonder if you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for me?

    Do seckel pears have a rough looking skin, or is it very smooth and shiny? Do they always have a red blush to them? Just curious as these seem to be a solid tan/brown color. How large do seckel pears get? The largest of the pears here are about the size of an orange. The tree stands about 30 feet high. Any suggestions as to which variety of pear this is? If not, do you know a good resource for identification? I haven’t been able to find much on the net with photos for assistance. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong place?

    Thanks for your help!

    P. Bass

  • 17. no counterspace » Blog Archive » food list  |  October 31, 2008 at 9:02 am

    […] bulb) hot peppers galore 4 chinese eggplant 1/2 pound snowpeas chinese broccoli coconut milk 6 Seckel pears red and green tomatoes 1 onion 2 apples 2 butternut squash – still […]

  • 18. Joan Clement  |  December 7, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    I found a recipe for spiced seckel pears a few weeks ago. It called for the pears to be simmered for 20 minutes before putting them in the jars. I don’t see any thing about cooking them in your directions. Did I miss something or don’t yours need to be cooked. Please let me know. I want to make some for the holidays. Thank you Joan

  • 19. Jennie  |  December 7, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Joan – I do not cook the pears in this recipe. That being said, the recipe requires very ripe (i.e., already fairly soft) pears. If your pears aren’t really ripe, then they may need to be cooked to soften them. Also, the “mission” of this recipe might be different from that of the one you saw that cooks the pears. This recipe is meant to pickle the pears, leaving them a bit crunchy, like a pickle would be. The other recipe, I would guess, was meant to create a soft dessert-like pear. I’m not sure which you would rather have. Regardless, you did not miss something in my recipe: it doesn’t call for cooking the pears. Good luck! 🙂

  • 20. Jennie  |  December 7, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    P. Bass – Sorry it took me a bit to respond to your comment. It somehow slipped through my radar. In any case, the biggest clue that a pear is a seckel pair is its size. Seckel pears are quite small compared to, say, a Bartlett pear. If your pears are the size of an orange, they are not likely to be seckel pears. They do, in my experience, tend to have a smooth skin and a ting of blush to them where the sun hit. If you have a more yellow larger pithy pear on you tree, it may be an old heirloom variety. If you wanted to take a picture of the pears and send it to me, I could try to get it identified, although it might be just as easy to take a large twig from the tree to your local extension office (every state has agriculture extension offices that help answer questions just like this). If I can be of more help, just email me at straightfromthefarm (at) gmail (dot) com.

  • 21. Grandma’s Pumpkin Pie « Straight from the Farm  |  December 19, 2009 at 10:25 am

    […] write a lot about my grandmother on this blog and for good reason.  She’s an amazing cook who, next to my mother, influenced my culinary sensibilities the […]

  • 22. Cheryl Terry  |  July 18, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I don’t see on this receipe that you process in a hot water bath? Is is allright just to turn them over and let them cool without boilig the jars for 20 minutes?

    Am really wanting to do these as my mother did and I have this question on so many of the receipes I see They don’t FINISH as to BATH or NOT to BATH.

    Thank you so much.
    Cheryl Terry

  • 23. CheezCayke  |  July 27, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Hi Cheryl,

    I’m not the OP but I wanted to you to have an answer. The canning process outlined in this post is not considered to be safe.

    The Center for Home Preservation is considered to be the final word on safe canning.

    Also the Ball Blue Book is the canners Bible. They aren’t expensive and have step by step instructions.

    The pears should be peeled. Peels harbor dirt and bacteria. The syrup should be boiling. The jars and lids should be hot. You can raw pack the pears (but they will float) or simmer in the syrup for 15 to 20 mins, this will keep them from floating. Then they should be processed in a boiling water bath for 20 mins.

  • 24. Sean  |  October 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (, a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site as I am curating preservation recipes for pears right now. Good stuff!

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  • 26. lori  |  September 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I love this blog and how you can cook with your grandma. I will try your recipe. I have pickled pears but used a recipe for crab apples which included ginger. They were good. I did hot water bath mine.
    I am including my receipe, but will try yours this weekend.
    Crab Apples or Pears
    7 1/2 C Sugar
    4 1/2 C apple vinegar
    3 3/4 C water
    4 tsp whole cloves
    4 cinnamon sticks
    6 cubes ginger, 1/2 inch square
    Poke apples or pears with holes, boil up syrup and let fruit soak overnight.
    Remove fruit and boil syrup.
    Put fruit in hot jars, pour over syrup add lids.
    Process pints for 25 min. in boiling water canner

  • […] Beauty in a Jar « Straight from the Farm – Beauty in a Jar. October 15, 2007 at 8:09 am Jennie 27 comments. Pears stuffed in jars ready for brine. The other week I struck gold at the Headhouse Farmers Market! To be exact, delicious sweet little gold nuggets in the form of Seckel pears. … […]

  • 28. Beth Horne  |  June 2, 2012 at 12:34 am

    I have loved pickled pears since I was a small child and at them every evening at diner at my grandparents table. Did you know peaches can be done the same way and are every bit as delicious? They are truly a gift from God, and I am so thankful to have this recipe on here, because I’ve been fiddling around with what I could remember went into them and needed a good recipe. We add food coloring to make the delicious treats more festive-red or green is lovely and so takes me back to my childhood when I see them in a depression glass server! My mouth is watering as I write! I don’t think Mom is going to give up any of her Mason jars, so it looks like this weekend I’m going to be buying fruit and jars and a LOT of cloves and cinnamon sticks! I have everything else…Thank you for sharing this recipe and the lovely story.

  • 29. Michelle  |  September 5, 2015 at 9:47 am

    My grandma pickled pears. The most delicious concoction I remember. When seckle* wasn’t available, it was every very ripe pear she could find. Many she peeled before pickling. Sweet pear flavor with just a bit of zing from the vinegar. I once made myself quite sick as a child by raiding Grandmas storage and eating so many of these. I am ashamed to say that to hide my misdeed I hid the jars and didn’t own up to it.


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