How to Can Pears in Light Syrup

Several pears on a white table

Learn how to can pears in light syrup in a water bath canner. Canned pears are an excellent project for a beginning canner, but even if you have years of experience you'll love these sweet pears canned in light syrup.

How to can pears in light syrup, a step-by-step tutorial

Depending on where you live, pear harvest usually begins in the fall and peaks in October. Pears are a sweet and delicious fall fruit and are one that I truly love to have on my pantry shelves. 

Recently I was given several buckets of Bartlett pears. Hubby loves pears, so I planned to can most of them.

Canning pears isn't just about preserving fruit; it's about preserving memories and the sweet taste of fall. 

Whether you picked pears from your own fruit trees or in a you-pick orchard - or they were gifted to you by a friend like mine were - you'll be reminded of those special times and people each time you open a jar of home-preserved pears.

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Pears, like most fruit, are a high-acid food, so they are safe to preserve in a water bath canner. 

Water bath canning, or boiling water bath canning, is the easiest (and least-scary) way to preserve food and is often the first canning experience for beginning home food preservers.

If this is your first time canning pears, don't be intimidated. Just follow these step-by-step directions.

How to tell that pears are ripe, and how to ripen them after picking

The thing is, pears are harvested when they are slightly immature and hard to the touch, and they need to ripen completely after they've been picked.

By allowing the pears to ripen slowly, they will mellow and soften, growing sweeter as they become ripe.

So I had to wait a bit before I canned these pears. 

The best way to ripen pears

Lay the pears in a single layer on a floor or table so they can ripen and soften naturally. Pears give off ethylene gas which helps them ripen. I laid mine in a single layer on our mudroom floor.

Check the neck of the pears (the stem end) daily, pressing gently with your thumb to judge the softness.

For canning, pears should have some "give" but should be firm, not hard. Overripe pears are good for eating fresh and for making jam, though, so don't worry if your pears are a little farther along in the ripening process.

Want to ripen just one or two pears quickly? Put them in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana. Apples and bananas give off higher amounts of ethylene gas. The bag will hold in the gas, causing the pears to ripen faster.

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What you need to can pears

As I mentioned, pears can be water-bath canned so you don't need a pressure canner. Water bath canners are relatively inexpensive, but there are safe alternatives if you don't have a canner. You can read these frugal (but safe!) hacks canning here.

You'll need the following equipment to can pears:

  • a water bath canner
  • a rack for the bottom of the canner, to allow water to flow under the jars (included with a canner set, but if you're using a large stockpot instead you'll need a rack. I use a stainless steel cake cooling rack from Amazon that is a slightly smaller diameter than my pot.)
  • canning tongs/jar lifter (this canning tool set includes the jar lifter, canning funnel, bubble popper and more)
  • canning funnel
  • bubble popper
  • clean, sterilized canning jars
  • rings and new lids for the jars

You can use either quart jars or pint jars to can pears, depending on your preference and your family's size. The only difference is in the length of time you process the jars in the boiling water bath.

Since there are just the two of us, I can almost everything in pint jars.

Slice pears in a white colander

The raw pack method vs. the hot pack method

There are several methods you can use to can pears. 

The easiest method is to simply slice the pears, add them to the jars, cover with sugar syrup (water and sugar) and process in boiling water. This is called the raw pack or cold-pack method

However, your fruit will float in the jars after processing. It won't be as attractive or as high quality as if you'd used the hot-pack method.

Raw fruit also seem to absorb the liquid in the jars during the canning process, leaving the top pieces of fruit high and dry in storage. Opening the jar later can be a bit of a disappointment; those pear slices on top can be dry and hard.

In the hot pack method, you simply boil the pears slightly before putting them in the jars. 

In my opinion, if I'm going to do the work of preserving high-quality, organic fruit for my family's consumption, I want the best-quality finished product. I want it to look its best, taste its best, have the best texture, and remind us of summer's sweet, fresh pears when we open the jars.

I'm sure you want that for your family too!

So instead of raw-packing the fruit, I use the hot-pack method now.

The hot-pack method is exactly what it says: you simmer the pears in water or in the sugar syrup (see below for directions to make the syrup) for about five minutes, and pack it in the jars while it's still hot. 

When using this method, the fruit is softer after canning and it doesn't float as much at the top of the jars. It's more attractive to the eyes as well as pleasing to the tongue.

Getting ready to can pears

First, prepare your canning jars.

Check the rims of the jars for cracks and chips by running your finger along the top edge. If there are any "snags" or sharp spots, don't use the jar. You need a perfectly smooth rim in order for the jar lid to safely seal.

Clean your jars by running them through a dishwasher cycle, or wash them well by hand. Keep the jars warm while you are preparing the pears. Keeping them in a sink full of warm water works well.

Pint canning jars in warm water in a stainless steel sink

Put the canning lids in a bowl or pan of warm water until you're ready to use them.

This is also the best time to add water to your canner and heat it up. 

Fill your canner about 1/3 full with water, and turn the burner on Low Heat. You want the water to be warm when you add the jars, but not yet boiling.

You'll add more water to the canner after putting the full jars inside, so fill up a kettle or saucepan with water and heat it up too, so you'll be adding hot water to the hot water in your canner.

The "rule" about food and water temperature when canning

When you're canning hot food, you must add it to warmed jars and put them into warm water in the canner. If you're raw-packing or cold-packing food, you put the food in cold jars and add cold water to your canner. 

Extreme temperature changes can break your jars. In other words, adding a cold jar full of cold food to hot water in your canner can break the glass jars. 

Adding hot food to cold jars and then putting them in cold water will also break your jars.

To be safe, always add hot food to hot jars to hot water in the canner OR cold food to cold jars to cold water in your canner.

Preparing pears for canning

Wash the pears, remove the peels and cores, and halve or quarter the fruit. 

Cut the fruit into similar size chunks. This ensures safe canning - all of the fruit pieces will be processed for the same amount of time. In other words, the center of a large chunk of fruit wouldn't reach the proper temperature as quickly as a smaller piece.

Add the cut pears to a large bowl of cold water and lemon juice. Let the pears soak for about 2-3 minutes. This lemon juice bath will keep your canned pears from turning brown in the jars. The acid in the lemon juice prevents this discoloration and keeps the pears white when canning.

To make the lemon juice bath, add a splash of lemon juice to the bowl of cold water. 

You can use citric acid powder or a fresh fruit preserver instead of lemon juice if you wish. Follow the directions on the package for how much citric acid to add.

Make the light sugar syrup

Adding sugar syrup to fruit when canning helps retain the fruit's flavor and color. 

In the past, heavy syrup was commonly used when canning fruit. Heavy syrup sweetens the fruit considerably. 

However, modern families now prefer to use a lighter syrup, which contains about half the added sugar compared to heavy syrup, and light syrup contains fewer calories.

To make light syrup, use the following amounts of sugar and water. These amounts result in a syrup that is approximately 20% sugar.

  • For nine pint jars (9 jars will fit in a standard water bath canner), use 5 3/4 cups of water and 1 1/2 cups of sugar. 

  • For seven quart jars (7 quart jars will fit in a standard water bath canner), use 9 cups water and 2 1/4 cups sugar. 

Amounts of water and sugar for very light, medium and heavy syrup can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.

Heat the water and sugar together in a saucepan or pot. Bring to a boil. Keep the syrup warm. Pour over the fruit in the filled jars, and process the jars as we discuss below.

An alternate to using sugar

You can use a light honey syrup instead of sugar if you wish. Use a mild-flavored honey for the best flavor. and follow the directions for making light sugar syrup above. 

The NCHFP recommends using 1 cup of honey to 11 cups of water.

You can also use heated apple juice or white grape juice instead of sugar syrup or honey syrup.

Sliced pears in a saucepan with light sugar syrup.

Cook the pears

Drain the pears from the lemon juice/water solution where they were soaking.

Add the pears to a large pot with your light sugar syrup, bring it to a boil and cook for five minutes. 

Add the pears to the jars

Using a canning funnel, pack the cooked pears into your hot, clean canning jars. Put as much fruit in the jars as possible for best results.

Now add the hot syrup to the jars, ladeling it over the fruit. Leave a half-inch headspace in the jars. 

Adding sliced pears to a pint canning jar with a blue canning funnel.
Pack as much fruit into the canning jars as possible for best results.

Headspace is measured from the top rim of the jar, not from the "shoulder" where the jar flairs out. Leave a half-inch of air-space between the top of the jar and the fruit and syrup inside.

Now use the bubble popper (or a plastic knife) to dislodge any bubbles in the jars. Run the bubble popper around the inside of the jar to move the fruit slightly and let trapped air rise to the surface. Add more syrup if needed to adjust the headspace.

Use a damp towel to wipe the top rim of the jars to remove any food particles that could keep the lid from sealing.

Add the lids and rings to the jars, and screw them on finger-tight.

Adding the jars to the canner

Your canner should have several inches of warm water inside by now. Remember, we did this step earlier.

Using the jar lifter, place the filled and lidded jars carefully in the water, setting them on the rack on the bottom. Lift them straight up, without tilting them, and try not to let the jars bump against each other inside the canner.

If you don't have enough jars to fill the canner, add empty jars filled with warm water to take up that space. Too much room could let your jars "float" and tip over. 

Filled jars of pears in a water bath canner.

Process the jars of pears

Now, fill your canner with that warm water you've heated up. The water should be at least one inch above the tops of the jars, with enough room above the water to allow for a rolling boil. You don't want the water to spill over the top of the canner.

Add the lid to the canner and turn up the heat. Let the water come to a roiling boil and start your timer. Let the jars process (cook in the boiling water) for 20 minutes if you're using pints, or 25 minutes for quarts.

If you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level like I do, add an additional 5 minutes of processing time.

When the time is up, turn off the heat and carefully move your canner off the hot burner. I simply move mine to the next burner, which I haven't used so it's not hot. Let your canner cool down a bit before opening it.

Remove the lid from the canner, tilting it away from your face so steam won't burn you.

Use canning tongs to remove the jars, lifting them straight up out of the canner, and set them on a folded towel on the counter. Leave the jars there, undisturbed for 24 hours. 

They shouldn't be sitting in a draft or in front of an open window, or any other place with temperature fluctuations.

You might or might not hear the lids "ping" as the jars cool down. This is a lovely sound which means that the jar is sealed!

Let your jars cool naturally

After 24 hours, clean off the jars with a damp cloth and then remove the rings. 

You can test the seal of the jars in two ways. I do both tests.

  1. Push lightly on the lid with your finger. There should be no "give" and the jar lid should be slightly concave.

  2. Try to pick up the jar by the edges of the lid. If the jar didn't seal, the lid will come off the jar. Do this carefully, since the jar will fall back on the counter if it's not sealed correctly. 

If your jar did not seal, you can either reprocess the contents (in a clean jar with a new lid), or you can put the jar in the refrigerator and use it within a day or two - or put the food in the freezer.

I haven't reprocessed an unsealed jar; we simply eat the food that day or the next day. Reprocessing the jar will cook the food inside a second time, so the texture will be mushier.

Storing Your Canned Pears

Be sure to label and date your jars before storing them. Believe me, jars of canned food can look very similar. Are those pears or apples? 

Home canned food should be used within 3 years, but I also preach the "first in, first out" rule (sometimes called FIFO). This means that the oldest jars of food are used first. 

When you add jars to your pantry shelves, move the older jars forward and put the newly-canned food behind them.

You might think that home food preservation is a lot of work with a lot of steps. Just work through the steps one by one, it's isn't hard. 

You'll be glad you did when you open a jar of home-canned pears in the middle of winter. A jar of summer sweetness is worth the all the work you did in the summer and fall!

This post contains affiliate links. Read my disclosure here.

How to find and buy used canning jars
Best gifts for home canners
The rest of my home preservation posts

How to can pears in a water bath canner.


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