Preserving your bounty that you’ve worked so hard for is part of the challenge of growing your own food. We were blessed with three mature pear trees on our property so in years that we have plentiful fruits, we become consumed with preserving as much as we can while they are producing. We don’t always have plentiful years as late spring frosts, which are common to our area, periodically get the budding pear flowers. This year has been very mild and extra rainy, so our pear, apple and grape harvest has been very good. Excess fruit can be preserved as Jelly, Jam, Fruit Butters, Wine, Cider, Vinegar and also preserved by Dehydration. Dehydrated fruit stores well, makes excellent snacks, and can also be reconstituted by simmering in a little water and then made into bread, cakes, pies, etc.
Dehydrating is easy and can be done on a screen frame outside in the sun, or in an electric dehydrator. Of all the fruit, pears are our favorite for this because of their flavor. Many, many, many years ago I remember “helping” my Grandfather lay out sliced apples on an old drying frame that he had built and assembled between the garden and his workshop. In hindsight, I wonder why he didn’t put it closer to the house and how he kept animals from raiding it. I had thought I had a picture of it, but only find the one below that would have been taken several months after the apples were harvested and dried. The screen sat on the grassy area. Good memories.
Anyway, for almost a decade we’ve talked about making a screen frame for our place here that we could put on the ground level part of our metal roof because of the drying heat generated up there by the sun, but like so many other things, we just haven’t gotten around to it. For now we use an electric dehydrator and my Grandfather, who has long since left us, is either disapproving entirely or thinks it’s a brilliant improvement… it could go either way. Our dehydrator is a mid-level priced one but does a good job. It’s a Nesco “American Harvest” like this one: Nesco/American Harvest FD-80 Square-Shaped Dehydrator. There are cheaper ones, and more expensive ones. Both seem to have equally good reviews. Really, the only other gadget needed is a mandolin slicer. The first few years, I sliced by hand but a $10 Walmart mandolin slicer was worth the investment a hundred times over. Turns out there are a ton of much nicer ones for not much more than I paid. If I could do it again, I would probably go with one that has other attachments like this: Mandoline Slicer Spiralizer Vegetable Slicer – Veggie Slicer Mandoline Food Slicer with Julienne Grater – V Slicer Mandoline Cutter – Vegetable Cutter Zoodle Maker – Vegetable Spiralizer
The process is super easy:
- Peel the pears.
- Slice them on the mandolin to a thickness of any where from 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch. I slice mine whole and then trim out the seed portion like shown below. This one looked like he was sad. 🙁
3. Arrange slices on the dehydrator trays and set the temperature for about 135 degrees.
4. We like ours to dehydrate for a longer period of time than is usually recommended. If you are working with a sweet fruit, choosing a lower temperature for a longer period of time seems to really bring out the sweetness. For our pears I dehydrate for anywhere from 14 hours to 16 hours at 135 degrees. It sounds like a lot and even too much maybe, but you’ve got to trust me on this one. 🙂
That’s all there is too it. No preservatives, no sugar or ascorbic acid wash. Just fruit. Remove the dehydrator lid, let the fruit cool and store in lidded mason jars or ziploc bags. Out of direct heat and sunlight, it will keep for a long, long time.
If you’re looking for a good book with simple, preservative free techniques, check out Michelle Keough’s book, Dehydrating at Home: Getting the Best from Your Dehydrator, from Fruit Leather to Meat Jerkies. It’s reasonably priced and includes everything from fruit to veggies to meat.