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Dublin: 1°C Monday 25 January 2021

From the Garden: Harvesting, storing and pickling fresh pears this season

It’s difficult to tell when pears are ripe but there is a knack to it, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

AS WE HEAD into October, the turnover of the big tunnel into winter mode continues after I removed the climbing French beans last month and replaced them with the final crop of beetroot for this year.

You might recall I was a little concerned that I had left the beetroot too late to transplant, but they have flown along so far and are starting to visibly turn into tiny beetroot.

With a month left of growing, hopefully they will give us a crop of roots for winter storage.

I started to take out some of the tomato plants this week. There’s still at least three to four weeks of harvesting left to do (particularly on the Sungold varieties that always crop latest), but I’m removing some plants at this stage to make a start.

The tomatoes have been abundant this year – we’ve more than enough tomato sauces made for the freezer, so we’re winding down now – and we have been eating any leftover tomatoes fresh. 

As we’ve spoken about many times here before, I aim to cover my soil with something over the winter to protect and feed it. I replace the nutrients taken from it by growing food in it during the year.

Generally, that’s either a covering of seaweed gathered up from the beach, homemade compost or a green manure (that is, a plant that is grown to feed the soil).

It would be simplest of course just to use one of the three, but I don’t usually have enough of any one type so I tend to use a combination.

In the space made available by clearing some of my tomato plants, I sowed rows of an Japanese green called Mizuna. This will have the benefit of providing some salad leaves for the house in the coming months, while also improving the soil.

As Richard Mee, our Head Grower at GROW HQ, is always telling me – growing anything in the soil over the winter is better than nothing. Bare soil is bad.

So from that perspective, sowing a late crop of Mizuna in the tunnel is better than leaving the soil bare.

It’s not a green manure in the sense of feeding the soil chemically while it grows in the way that a legume would (like clover or beans) but it will improve the soil biologically.

If it is chopped up and dug into the soil in early spring, it is organic matter that will improve the soil.

As I clear more tomato plants in the weeks ahead, I will be sowing the Landsburger Mix green manure from Fruithill Farm which is a brilliant, nitrogen-fixing ground cover that contains vetch, crimson clover and ryegrass.

In the spirit of not wasting anything, there are still opportunities for the spent tomato plants. They are a valuable source of nitrogen, so they got chopped up and form a nice thick green layer in the compost heap.

Finally, the odd green tomato that was left on the plants gets brought into the kitchen, destined to make a nice green tomato chutney.

The Basics – Harvesting and Storing Pears

It’s generally fairly obvious when apples are ripe, but pears are slightly trickier to judge.

The rule of thumb is that when ripe, it will come off into the palm of your hand easily if you give it a gentle twist. They should be firm when harvesting, rather than soft, and are then ripened at room temperature. This will take between seven and 10 days.

Early varieties are not considered great for storage and should be eaten when ripe (or processed – e.g. frozen or pickled, see recipe below). Later ripening varieties can be stored up to Christmas and, if you’re very lucky, into the New Year.

In the same way as apples, you can store pears by wrapping them individually in some newspaper and storing in a bin, a cold shed or even in a fridge.

It’s best to store them before they ripen, sorting for defects and removing any with bruises or damage. Remove them from storage about a week before eating to give them a chance to soften and develop their flavour.

shutterstock_1382226374 Pickled pears are delicious with blue cheese or cold meats. Source: Shutterstock/Shaiith

Recipe of the Week – Pickled Pears

We always make half a dozen jars of this pickled pear recipe – they are some of the most coveted jars in the winter larder.

Spooned from the jar with a little of the syrup, they are delicious with some blue cheese or cold meats. The spices here give them a defiantly festive feel.


  • 2.3 kg pears
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 3 inch (7.5 cm) cinnamon stick
  • 2 inch (5 cm) root ginger
  • Rind of half a lemon
  • 2 lb sugar (900 g) sugar
  • 1 pint ((570 ml) white wine vinegar 


Peel, quarter and core the pears.

Tie the cloves, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and lemon rind in a muslin bag.

Put the sugar and vinegar into a large stainless steel or enamel pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Bring the syrup to the boil – add the pears and bag of spices.

Simmer for about 5 minutes or until the pears are just soft.

Remove the pears using a slotted spoon and pack them into clean, hot, sterilized jars.

Boil the syrup until it has reduced by about one third.

Discard the bag of spices and pour the syrup over the pears, allowing the syrup to penetrate through.

If necessary add more syrup until the jars are full.

Cover and seal. 

Label with contents and date once the jars are fully cool.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY. 


About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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