I have wonderful memories of my mother bottling pears from the tree in our backyward. The thick treacly smells of sugar syrup boiling in pots, the kitchen counters covered in green pear peelings and my mother and father coddling warm mason jars filled with goodies for the winter.
Inspired by these memories, I go looking for a recipe for bottled pears. I have fond memories of my mother’s pears, but I want to make something of my own. I find an image of a mason jar filled with soft yellow pears, amber syrup, the pears studed with cloves and cardamom pods. I decide to try this recipe.
I pick a 15 pound bag of slightly unripe Bartlett pears from a tree in our orchard. I follow the recipe, laying out a dozen mason jars and filling them with cloves, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, black peppercorns and star anise. I begin to make the syrup by adding equal parts of sugar and water and bringing it to a simmer.
I wash and peel the pears and by the tenth pear, I find a rhythm. Grab the pear, turn the knife, cut in half, core. Thirty minutes later, my pears, syrup and bottles are filled and ready. I screw on the lids and pop the jars into a pot of boiling water. The heat seals the jars and gently cooks the pears. Ten minutes later, I take out the first bottles, filling the pot back up with another load of jars. Anxious, I crack one of the bottles open. Perfumed steam wafts out, carrying sweet spicy notes. I pull out a pear, worried it will be too hard or too soft. But it’s perfect. Sweet, but not cloying, the spices have been harmonized by the heat and the syrup. I’m in heaven.
By the end, I have a dozen amber coloured mason jars full of spiced pears, just like in the recipe. If I’m not too greedy, they should last me until spring. Admittedly, these are not my mother’s pears. But they do remind me of her, of the autumns I spent watching her peeling, coring and bottling for hours. I call her and tell her I tackled my first bottling attempt. She asks all the right questions, “Did you have enough mason jars? Did you make enough syrup?” Yes and yes. But then she asks the question every mother does, hoping to hear the right answer: “Are they as good as mine?”
“No mom,” I say, “no one makes them quite like you do.”
I swear I can hear my mother smile on the other end of the line.