Pears are an excellent canning fruit because they make it through the canning process with more of their color, flavor and texture intact than many other fruits do. Here is how to can them for the best results.
There are two basic ways to safely can pears: the hot pack method and the raw pack method. I am not a big fan of the raw pack method because although it requires fewer steps, it results in an inferior product. Raw packed fruit tends to shrink during processing and float up out of the canning liquid. The pieces that float to the top discolor and are unappealing once the jars are opened.
The hot pack method reduces the likelihood of fruit float and discoloration.
Step One: Choose Your Fruit with Care
Choose firm, unblemished pears for canning. It is best to use ones that are slightly underripe, though not completely hard. Overly ripe fruit is more likely to float in the jars, and also has a lower acid content. It is the naturally present acidity of the pears that helps to preserve them, not the canning liquid.
Peel and Core the Pears
Slice off the stems as well as a thin slice from the bottom of each pear. Peel the pears using a vegetable peeler. Cut them in half and use a paring knife to slice out the seeds and cores.
Chop the Pears
Prepare a large bowl of acidulated water (2 tablespoons white vinegar or lemon juice in a gallon of water).
Chop the peeled and cored pears into slices or chunks, whichever you prefer. Very small pears such as Seckels may be canned whole or in halves.
Add the chunks or slices to the bowl of acidulated water as you go. This step prevents discoloration.
Once all of the pears are cut up and in the acidulated water, drain them in a colander.
Briefly Cook the Pears in Syrup, Water, or Juice
Although pears are most often canned in a simple sugar syrup, it is quite safe to can them in juice or even plain water. The canning liquid is a flavoring element, not a safety consideration. If using juice, I recommend white grape juice because of its relatively neutral color and flavor. If using any other juice, such as apple, you may want to dilute it 50-50 with water so that the flavor of the juice does not overpower the flavor of the pears.
Bring the syrup, juice or water to a boil. Add the chunks or slices of pears and simmer them for 2 minutes.
Fill the Canning Jars
Your canning jars do not need to be sterilized for canning pears, but they do need to be clean and crack or chip-free. They also need to be hot - fill them with very hot water, and then empty them just before filling with fruit.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pears from the liquid they were simmering in. Fill the jars with the fruit, leaving 3/4-inch head space between the top of the pears and the rims of the jars. Pack the fruit in quite tightly without smashing it (this is another tip that helps to reduce fruit float).
Ladle the hot liquid the pears simmered in over the fruit, leaving 1/2-inch head space in each jar. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper or cloth towel (any food on a jar rim could prevent a good seal). Secure canning lids.
Process the Jars