I was one of those Laura Ingalls Wilder girls who grew up trying to churn butter while costumed in my mother's gingham apron. (Perhaps you were a Little House on the Prairie addict, too. Remember tying a rope around your waist because it was the only way to reach the barn without getting lost in the blizzard? Someone had to milk the cows!)
While I never went so far as to inflate a fresh-killed pig's bladder and bat it around like a ball, I did admire the ingenuity. What I really liked, though, was the matter-of-fact way the Ingalls family faced down danger in everyday life: Pa unfazed by a panther lurking in the woods. One time Laura and Mary roasted a pig's tail and then took a bite of it.
Perhaps there is a lifelong residual effect to being a Laura Ingalls Wilder girl. This would explain how I found myself in the kitchen a couple of days ago, peeling a mountain of pears and preparing to defy the federal government's warnings against canning fruit in the oven: "This can be dangerous," advises the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla except where noted.
Above: Weck Canning Jars are from $2.95 to $3.95 apiece depending on size from Crate & Barrel.
A lot of people are against oven canning, fearing that the old-fashioned technique will lead to botulism—or cause your canning jars to explode. But at Gardenista and Remodelista, we've never experienced those problems. Alexa, who swears by the method after taking a class at Blue Chair Fruit, has oven-canned batches of blueberry, strawberry, plum, and apricot jams.
As for me, I have a pear tree in the backyard. It's a gnarly, grizzled old thing, a survivor that refused to die even after we mistreated it while renovating the house. The contractors piled rusty-nail boards against its trunk, and bulldozers compacted the earth above its roots. But the tree prevailed and, a year later, its branches are sagging under the weight of pears.
I had to do something with all that ripe fruit.
I picked about six pounds of pears—enough to fill a few Weck jars—and settled on a simple recipe for Preserved Pears that called for packing them in a syrup flavored with star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon. For the full recipe and step-by-step instructions, see Simply Recipes.
I decided to finish the pears in the oven instead of canning them in a water bath on top of the stove because, well, it's a lot easier: no boiling water, no splattering, no burned wrists.
Here's how I did it:
Following the recipe for Preserved Pears, I made a syrup and while it came to a boil in a pan on the stove, I peeled, cored, and quartered the fruit. To keep the pears from turning brown, I squeezed a lemon in a bowl of water and submerged the sliced fruit until it was time to add it to the syrup.
Meanwhile, I sterilized the jars in the oven.
I placed the jars on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven for 30 minutes at a temperature of 250 degrees. At this low heat, nothing exploded, cracked, spontaneously combusted, or went mad.
While the jars were in the oven, I added the pears to the (shockingly delicious) syrup and simmered the fruit on the stovetop for five minutes.
Then I filled the sterile jars with fruit, ladling syrup over the pears. I left a half-inch gap at the top of the jars, allowing for the possibility that the contents would expand during heating.
Then I sealed the jars. For step-by-step instructions on how to properly seal the jars, see Weck Jars: Facts.
I returned the jars to the oven for another 30 minutes. Note: It is important to make sure that your oven heats the fruit evenly; if you're unsure about it, use an oven thermometer.
Above: Photograph by Zoe Quittner.
When a Weck jar is properly sealed, the rubber tab on the rim will point downward (as Above).
My plan is to serve the pears atop vanilla ice cream, and to sprinkle toasted almond slivers on top of the fruit (although I know this is not technically a Little House on the Prairie dessert—did the Ingalls family even have access to almonds? Discuss.)
Do you have a pear tree or an apple tree or a plum tree groaning with ripe fruit? If so, we can help you with that. See our 10 Easy Pieces: Canning Essentials for a checklist of canning equipment.
Have you tried oven canning? How did it go? Tell us in the comments below.