Sunday, September 21, 2008


The second week of September Rich picked the pears from our tree...150 lbs to be exact. We decided it was time to harvest because many of them were already falling onto the ground. It turns out that pears don't ripen on the tree (which is what we were waiting for them to do), you must pick them and then give them a few days to ripen. Next year we should start earlier, and pick a quarter of them, ripen them, use them, and then go on to the next quarter.

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 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:

  1. Wash pears with cool water
  2. Peel with paring knife, bottom to top
  3. Chop off stems with chef's knife
  4. Cut pears into quarters with chef's knife
  5. Slice out seeds, strings, and base with paring knife
By my 3rd day of Pear Week I had filled my most gigantic stock pot with sliced pears, added a little water, and turned on the heat. Soon I heard bubbling, as my pears began to warm up and break down. A yummy warm-pear scent filled my kitchen....for about 10 minutes, until it was overpowered by a scent I remembered all too well. This particular pot had been my cookware of choice for making soup until I burned a batch to the bottom. I forgot about this incident when I chose the pot for my first pear-sauce making experiment, but quickly recalled it when I smelled the reminder. I hoped and prayed that it would not affect the pear sauce. (Don't laugh). I continued to hope and pray. More hoping and praying. Until I looked up and saw smoke billowing out of the top of the pot. I knew instantly that my first batch, and 2 days worth of pear peeling, coring, and slicing would be wasted. I chalked it up to "Valuable Lessons in Homesteading," and went back to peeling, coring, and slicing.

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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fall Planting

Planting for fall and winter vegetables is a game of Heat vs. Frost. Because of this, plantings are split into 3 categories: August 1st--those which can stand some heat and need to be done before first frost, August 15th--like less heat or can tolerate some cold, and September 1st--which don't like heat at all. Because of our elevation (approximately 370 feet) we should move up the first two plantings by a week, which in the future would make them July 24th and August 8th.

Before planting, we prepared the beds by adding a mixture of bonemeal, bloodmeal, and kelpmeal and turning it in to the soil. After the summer crops the soil is really lacking in nitrogen, so in the future we will need to at least at bloodmeal every fall.

After digging up the potatoes on August 22nd I got to work planting. I put in the celery, cabbage, chard, collards, kale, and cauliflower. Rich put stakes around the beds and draped bird netting over the top so that our free range chickens would not come by and eat the little transplants or peck all of the seeds out of the soil that I just planted.

I did the second plantings on August 26th, putting in leeks, chives, onions, peas, carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets. It was a warm and sunny day, and very nice for working in the garden.

I planted the rest on September 5th: cilantro, bok choy, mustard greens, spinach, and radishes.

September 15th I planted the peas, after stalling because I couldn't make a decision about where they should go. I'm not sure if they are going to show up at all...they are yet to be seen popping out of the ground.

We moved the chicken tractor to a fresh spot

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Journal Entry

"The deer are demolishing our garden. :( They ate 70% of the leaves off our green bean and cucumber plants, and broke off a few stalks of corn. We have to do something to keep them out.

We are eating kale, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, green peppers, collards, and we picked our first corn today.

The boys tried some pears...they are looking the right size, but are not ripe. Not sure what to do... wait? Many are falling off the tree.

The goats need access to fresh pasture. I am going to call Premier One to order the movable electric fencing we need."