Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pears

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 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:

  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.

7 comments:

elliesmadre said...

Ah yes, the Hall house of pears. I remember that scent! I was looking up recipes for quince jelly, and found this link. http://www.elise.com/recipes/archives/001455quince_jelly.php

It says at the end, "You will hear a popping noise as a vacuum seal is created as the jars of jelly cool". So, I would imagine the pears are fine. This is a cool link too. http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/

Hedro said...

Wow. That's a LOT of pears! So far I've done one box of apples, and have one to go. Still afraid of canning, but I'm planning on freezing some applesauce and apple butter, and making apple bread with some of it as well.

-H

Mama Nomad said...

you're a pear supa-star! thank you so much for sharing the process with us.

by the way, the pear cake i made (even though it only takes 3 pears each) was insanely delicious:P

Comptons said...

I've never made sauce, but the turn-upside-down method is the only one I've ever used (or that my mom used) for jams and jellies. I can remember pulling a jar out of the pantry YEARS after it was canned, with seal still intact, and having delicious jelly.

Nomadic said...

Hi, I just came across your blog through a google search and I feel your pain on the pears! We had an "ugly pear" tree when we lived in OKC that grew the best pears for cooking, although they never got ripe enough to eat out of hand.

I made tons of pear butter in my crock pot (slice them up, season as you like and cook until done in the crock pot - sometimes it took 2 or 3 days). Then I'd jar my pear butter and use it as jelly, pie filling, pancake topping, etc.

Pears are also a great addition to apple pies. I froze tons of pear slices on cookie sheets, then put them in big baggies or freezer containers and pulled out what I wanted for pies or bread. Mmmmm

Oh, and I never peeled a pear. I always quartered them and removed the seeds, strings, and stems, but I left the skin intact unless there was a bad spot. I don't remember ever finding a piece of skin in my pear butter.

Your post brought back major memories and I thought I'd share a couple of ideas for ways to use up the surplus pears. :)

Melissa in FL
nnisigning@gmail.com

Bix said...

150 pounds. Yikes!

Of all the things I've dried in my dehydrator, nothing beats pears. They take almost 2 days, sigh, but the result is like nothing you can buy. And I love your oven-dried ones. I may try that.

Nicole said...

Hiya-
Nicole, Blake and Leah's friend in San Diego...here...I can A LOT...do not fear the process! I don't remember if you added lemon (or acid) to the pear sauce, but that is kinda an important part in length of keeping. Add a little lemon, and you should be pretty good. The other trick is, even though you did run the jars through the dishwasher, you want hot material going into a hot sterile jar. I personally have a large pot of water boiling, and place the jars in the boiling water for a couple of minutes, then take them out and fill them, clean the rims with a moist papertowel, then put on the sterile lids and rims. For pear sauce once you put the lids and rims on, you place the jars in the pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, take out and leave right side up on counter and they seal within minutes, and should be good, generally speaking for a year. I am jealous about the pears...to warm where I am to grow them...I have some yummy recipes if you are interested:
Cranberry Pear Jam
Ginger Pear Preserves
Pear Pickles (made with cinnamon & alspice and cider vinegar... I do this with peaches)
I LOVE my dehydrator as well. Pretty much all fruit seems to take about 2 days. Maybe next year we can swap via mail...I have a white fig tree that I dry the figs from...sorry to go on and on, but I am really into this stuff...
Thanks-
Nicole