So, 150 lbs of pears were stored in boxes and bags in our basement food storage area. Within a day the room hung sweet and heavy with the smell of pears...but I didn't have a plan, so I left them to sit as I searched for recipes, looked up canning information, collected jars (thank you, Danielle!), and mentally prepared.
The next week I got up my courage, and dug in. I piled and sorted all of the pears on our kitchen table (I wish I had a picture of this...it was loaded! This picture was taken after just one box): damaged but salvageable, ripe, almost ripe, still green.
I began peeling and coring, and soon found my groove. I will outline it here, in hopes of saving myself some time and trial and error next year:
- Wash pears with cool water
- Peel with paring knife, bottom to top
- Chop off stems with chef's knife
- Cut pears into quarters with chef's knife
- Slice out seeds, strings, and base with paring knife
Soon I had another pot full (I tossed the burned pot, and got out my Calphalon one) and I tried again. Success!! A nice big batch of sweet, yummy pear sauce. I had already sterilized the jars in the dishwasher and boiled all my lids and rings. I ladled pear sauce into each jar, screwed on the lids, and turned the jars upside down and left them on the counter to cool. I am not sure where I read about this, but it worked: all of the lids were sealed. I am still unsure about whether these will be safe to eat when we are ready, if anyone has info on it feel free to let me know. I figured, though, if it does work then this would be the easiest way to do it year after year. If it doesn't work, then I wasted some pears the first year, but I will know the additional work of water bath canning is necessary. It is all a learning process, and I expect to be doing this for many, many more years...
After making and sealing several batches of pear sauce, I decided to chop and freeze some pears. I cubed them and laid them out on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and then put them in the freezer. When they were all frozen, I put them into ziplock bags and put them back in the freezer.
With the remaining box of pears I borrowed a dehydrator from a friend (thank you, Adina!!!) and made dried pears. I followed the advice of the Fanatic Cook cutting the unpeeled, cored pears into quarters, and then soaking them in cold water with a few teaspoons of ascorbic acid and the juice of a lemon.
I packed all of them I could, single layered, into the dehydrator, and then put the rest on parchment paper on cookie sheets in the oven.
Our oven's lowest setting is 170, so that's what I left them on. Every couple of hours I rotated the dryer trays and cookie sheets so that a different one was on top and bottom in each. I left them drying this way for 29 hours (yes, twenty-nine), at which time the pears in the oven were pretty much completely dried (there were a couple of really plump ones that were still soft in the middle which got added to the next batch going into the oven from the dehydrator) but the ones in the dehydrator looked only about halfway done. I removed those from the oven and let them cool for awhile, and then I took the pears out of the dehydrator and put them onto the cookie sheets and into the oven. I left them there (rotating every once in awhile) for 10 hours, and then they were finally DONE! So far I am really happy with the result--the pears are super sweet, some are a little crispy and chewy, and others are still kind of soft in the middle....but they are all delicious. I wish it had not taken so long--I am wondering if I should slice them down more next year, although I don't want to end up with dried-up little fruit-shrivels. I probably will try cutting them in eighths and see if that cuts down on drying time.
The one thing I have not mentioned yet, the most irritating effect of dealing with all of these pears, is the fruit flies. oh. my. god. the fruit flies. We thought they really might take over our entire house. We still have an apple cider vinegar trap set out on the counter, and are catching several a day (down from the literally thousands that filled the bowl the first time we put it out). I am hoping that by picking and processing the pears in batches next year, instead of all at once, we will be able to deal with them more quickly with less of them lying around in the house at one time and less flies will have a chance to grow. We also should keep screens in the kitchen windows while we are working with the pears, at least.
This was an exhausting and memorable experience, which I'm glad I only have to look forward to once a year.