I grew up thinking that citrus was lemon, lime and navel orange. That apples came only in varieties of Red Delicious (we were entirely transformed when my mom discovered Fuji varietal in the early 1990s) and that pears were either Bartlett or Bosc.
My transition into an independent grocery shopper happened right around the same time that the farmers' market movement picked up momentum and soon, my limited fruit matrix was blasted apart. I learned that cherries came in a world of varieties. Plums ranged from a sunny lemon color to the darkest purple imaginable. And pears had more names that I could learn.
One pear I discovered sometime in late 2002 was the tiny Seckel pear. If you haven't seen them before, they look like a small, blushing Bosc. I initially bought them because they were cute and would pack two or three into my lunch bag to eat with my sandwich. I kept buying them because they had a fresh, crisp flavor with just a hint of natural spice.
Years later, paging through one of my very first canning books, I learned that Seckel pears have long been a favorite of home food preservers. Because of their size, they can be packed into jars whole, eliminating the work of peeling and chopping. They also work both as a sweet preserve, packed in simple syrup and as a tangy one, covered with a slightly sweetened vinegar brine.
In years past, I've made these pickled Seckel pears to give out around the holidays and plan to do so again this year. Because they come into season in late September and early October, you can put them up after the frenzy of the summer canning season has come to an end. Packed into a small basket with a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese and a bag of homemade crackers, they make a winning holiday gift.
Before You Get Started
Though you can easily pickle them whole, I like them best when they've been sliced in half and seeded before canning. This way, you're able to pack more fruit into each jar and get away with using less brine.
Be thorough about removing the air bubbles from your jars prior to applying the lids and rings. Doing this help prevents brine loss during processing and keeps your finished jars looking pretty and presentable.
This recipe can be endlessly expanded and makes for a fun project to do with a friend. How else can you spend quality time with someone you like and end up with your holiday gifts taken care of?
Make sure to start out with crisp Seckel pears. Choosing slightly underripe fruit leads to a better product in the end.
If you don't want to go through the processing step, like so many other pickles I've posted here, these could also be done as a refrigerator pickle. Try them on your Thanksgiving cheeseboard, tossed with a green salad or with some leftover roast meat.
About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars.