Charlotte Chew, my grandmother, is from Atlanta, Georgia, but she now lives in Kingsport, Tennessee. I spent a lot of time at her house as a child, and I still go there and cook with her. During the hot weeks of late summer and early autumn, the activity at her house seems to revolve around her back porch. There are always green beans to snap, corn to shuck, or apples to peel for pie. My favorite thing to see being prepared are the pears from the tree next to the garden, because that means we’ll soon have the pear preserves Mrs. Chew learned how to make from her own grandmother, going by a recipe used for generations.
Mrs. Chew remembers her grandmother’s porch in north Georgia in the same way I have described hers. “We always used to sit outside and get the things ready for cooking. It was usually too hot to be in the house in early September, and there was always something to fix up from the garden.”
We spend afternoons outside peeling and cutting the pears in half. “Now, you never use store-bought eating pears to make preserves,” Mrs. Chew says. “You always use those old ugly things from the backyard.” Mrs. Chew is a funny and natural storyteller who loves to joke, and every time we sit outside together preparing the pears, she enjoys telling a story about the pear tree. “I planted that sapling down there by the garden. After five years, it still hadn’t given any pears. You know what they say about talking to plants to help them grow? Well I went down to that tree one spring and I said, ‘Listen, either you bear some fruit this year, or I’m coming down there with and axe!’ And lo and behold, that year we had pears.”
Mrs. Chew makes preserves the same way her great-grandmother did, with only a few changes. “Using a food processor makes it easy. It may be new-fangled, but it speeds up the process quite a bit,” she says.
Peel, core, and cut pears into fourths or halves. Place the halves in the food processor with the setting on “slice.” Weigh fruit and use 1 pound of fruit to ¾ pound of sugar. Place the pears in water and boil gently until the fruit is tender and clear. Take the pears from the water, and in a bowl, put a layer of fruit and a layer of sugar. Repeat until all of the fruit is used. Let stand overnight. Pour off the syrup and bring to a boil. Add pears and cook slowly, being careful not to break the fruit. Remove the scum while cooking. Cook until the syrup is thick and the fruit is clear. Put preserves into jars and seal.