This is the time of year on the old farms in Effingham County when pears get ripe. Almost all the farms had a few pear trees. Although it was hard work, women put up pears to use later in the year. Canned pears were great for pear salad, dumplings or pies. Pear pickle, preserves, jelly or jam were old time staples. While the pears were in season they made delicious deep dish pan pies (a thick pie in homemade pastry crust). My grandmother added pears to cornbread when they were almost ripe. Fruited cornbread was a way to use to what was on hand. Pear fritters were a treat, too. Pears make good cobblers, too.
In my opinion one of the best uses, outside of eating the juicy raw pears when ripe, was to make pear relish. Folks, pear relish making is not for the faint of heart! It is laborious work. First you harvest pears that are not quite ripe and are still firm. Next finely chop onions and peppers. Nowadays we have electric choppers that do the work for us. You peel the pears, covering with water until you are ready to cut them up and grind or grate them. The pears go into a big porcelain or stainless steel (vinegar can react in aluminum) canning pot and marry with onions, peppers and spices along with sugar, salt and vinegar to pickle the product. Enough turmeric must be added to give the signature lovely yellow color to the relish. Once the mixture boils for a sufficient time, heated canning jars are carefully filled and heated rings with new jar lids are secured on the jars. The filled jars can be heated in a water bath to assure sealing.
When relish season came along my Grandmother Exley (Kopy was my name for her) would work with her sister-in-law Faye Joyner and they would spend all day making relish. Often the girls had to pitch in, too. Working hard with another lady in current times it takes about six hours or more to make 30 pints of relish with modern day conveniences and a modern range. A single recipe yields about 6 pints. Back in the day, the cooking was done on a wood stove.
I recently made pear relish and the pot in the accompanying photograph holds multiple batches. A new take on the relish is to use hot peppers in the mixture. Jalapeno pear relish is delicious if you like things spicy. The relish, regular or mild, is delicious on hotdogs, burgers or sandwiches. Pear relish pairs well with cooked pork or other meats. Most country people eat relish on top of peas and rice. I am sharing my mother’s recipe with you. Perhaps you will try the delicious relish.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos or historical information to share contact her at 912-754-6681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org