Pear Extravaganza

pear ginger jam, quartered pears, and pear/apple sauce

My favorite time of year…pears, pears, pears and a few more pears.  While the battle between tent caterpillars and apple trees raged on this summer, the pear trees stood by and quietly unfurled their blossoms and strengthened their leaves.  Orchard stewards who took care to hold back the migrating caterpillar population as they crawled towards anything green and leafy were later filling buckets and bags with luscious fruit.

My family and I, along with a few other neighborhood families, were offered the apples and pears from an orchard in our neighborhood.  The owners leave the island for the winter, but didn’t want to see the fruit of their trees go to waste.  We brought home boxes of ripening pears and huge apples, some of which we made into juice with another neighbors small hand press.  We brought in our home made dehydrator and began coring and slicing apples and pears to fill up the trays.  My father built the dehydrator when I was a teenager, and I am very thankful that we still have it to use.

home made dehydrator

Pears and apples are the the very basics of what is possible with a dehydrator- we have made crackers, fruit leather, and dried herbs, and the possibilities are endless for vegetables, too.  Now that we have some kitchen space I hope that we can expand on our uses. It is a very simple design- a plywood box with 6 trays made with window screen stapled to a 2×2 frame that slide in to place in the box, and a hinged door on one side.  It sits above a low-heat boat/RV space heater, the kind that is meant to keep damp spaces dry.  By moving the trays down as the lower fruit dries, I can load the top trays and rotate the trays continually.

My mom and I also got the canner out and made 12 jars of pear ginger jam, a winter favorite that we alternate with the many jars of blackberry jam we made earlier in the season.  We canned pear/apple sauce for baking and eating, and we also filled a few large jars of quartered pears to preserve the luscious juiciness of the pears over the winter.

Cedar’s favorite snack

Books and references that are integral for recipes and how-to tips on canning, freezing and drying…..

Keeping The Harvest, by Nancy Chioff and Gretchen Mead (1991) covers just about every method of preserving anything.  Includes plans for a home made dehydrator, although it is more complicated than the one my dad built.  Plans for that one are in Dry It, You’ll Like It! by Gen MacManiman (1973, a classic…might be hard to find).  We also have a new book called Independence Days, A Guide To Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation, by Sharon Astyk (2009).

using the apple press to make fresh juice

Independence Days lays out the how-to’s of food preservation, as well as connecting a host of broader issues tied to the creation of local diets.

It includes information on buying in bulk, techniques of canning and drying, and what tools are and are not needed.  The author also focuses on how to live on a pantry diet year-round, how to preserve food on a community scale, and how to reduce reliance on industrial agriculture by creating vibrant local economies.

Sharon Astyk is a former academic who farms in upstate New York with her family. She is the author of Depletion and Abundance, the co-author of A Nation of Farmers, and she blogs at www.sharonastyk.com.

Fresh apple juice

How many kids does it take to squeeze a few hundred pounds of apples in an afternoon?  How many litres does that make, divided by how many families, minus all that was drunken fresh from the spout?  well let’s see… I suppose that all equals a lot of fun and enthusiasm for celebrating the apples that grow up from the soil we stand on.

Our Spring Leaves group met with our friend George, to use his retro fitted apple press on a glorious fall day.  Retro fitted meaning that he updated the working parts of an old press that he found derelict and out of use.  We all got a lesson on putting it together, and on the steps involved in crushing and pressing.  There were plenty of jobs for everyone to get a chance to try out, requiring patience and teamwork from the youngest of our group to the adults.  First we load the apples into the small hopper box, then crank the wheel to turn the crusher below the hopper.  This sends the crushed apples through into the large barrel below.  When the barrel gets full, we place a lid on it, and then turn the handle above the hopper, which pushes down on the lid and squeezes the crushed apples.  Juice then begins to flow out the through the spaces in the barrel at the bottom, onto a stainless steel tray, and through a small hole into our catchment bowl below.  Then we empty out the dry apple pulp, and start again crushing apples into the barrel.  Each family brought containers to fill, and we all went home with 5 or 6 litres each of pure unpasturized juice, which we can freeze or can, plus as much apple pulp as we wanted for our composts or for our chickens.  It was heart warming to see the kids connect so easily to the process of transformation, from trees in our backyards to sweet golden juice in our mouths. 

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