Drying and Preserving Your Pomes
For some reason the apples always ripen within a few weeks of each other, leaving the home orchard owner with a plethora of fruit. The same is true with pears and other pome fruit.
Many of these fruits will store well in cold storage but unless you want to fill your refrigerator with the produce, other methods of saving them should be considered. Drying and preserving this fruit will make it last for a couple years and gives the cook of the house different applications and sensations with which to work. These methods are very simple and just require a few basic tips and tricks to make certain your preservation efforts are safe and sanitary.
One of the ancient ways to save food is by drying. You can do it the old fashioned way on a rack or use your oven or dehydrator. In essence you are removing the moisture from the fruit which will make it last longer. It also pulls out a tangier flavor from the pome and makes a great trail mix, lunch box snack or on the go meal. A balance of warm temperatures and moving air create the best conditions for drying food. Pomes can be dried with their skin on or off but those that are peeled will dry more quickly. Prepare the fruit by washing, trimming away bruises, peeling if you wish, slicing into slim sections and rinsing them in lemon water to reduce oxidization. The slimmer the slice the quicker the fruit will dry but it will also be brittle. Keep the fruit as uniform as possible so they all dry at about the same time.
Use an oven or dehydrator. For the latter, simply line the racks with single layer of fruit and plug in. You will need to preheat an oven to about 145 and then lay the fruit on racks inside the oven with the door cracked to release moisture. Reduce the heat by 10 degrees after an hour. Drying time will vary but is approximately 6 to 8 hours. Save your dried fruit in sealed bags. Leave the bags open in a secure, insect free location for a week to finish drying any stray slices. You can freeze them for a longer shelf life or put them in a dark, dry location for 3 to 6 months.
Another fun way to preserve pomes is in fruit leather. This is a drying process as well, but requires you to puree and sometimes cook the fruit to a sauce or paste consistency. You can mix fruits or simply do pure strains. Additions such as spices, citrus juice and occasionally honey or sugar can intensify the flavors. Once you have the puree taste you want, pour it out onto plastic wrap no more than 1/4 inch thick. You can use the dehydrator or oven set to 150 degrees for the first hour and reduced to 140 for 6 to 12 hours. Keep a close watch on the leather and smooth out any thick spots as the puree dries. Roll the leather up when it is done in a piece of plastic wrap and store for a month in the pantry or 3 to 6 months in the freezer.
Pomes make an excellent fruit butter. You can process fruit butter in the microwave, stovetop, slow cooker, or even oven. They don't really have butter but have such a smooth creamy consistency they taste as if they did.
The process is simple and starts with peeling, coring and cutting fruit into 1/2 inch cubes. Put the fruit into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. You can add spices, sweetener and citrus juice at this time but be cautious with the sugar as fruit butters get sweeter after they cook down. Put the puree into a pan or pot and cook at low, stirring frequently until it is thick and slightly sticky. Slow cookers and crock pots work great for this because you can just leave it on and mostly forget the process. The butter may take 3 to 5 hours on the stove top at low. Slow cookers will take 6 to 8 hours. Once the butter is creamy, remove from the heat and let it cool.
Preserving butter, jams, jellies and pure fruit for a long time is done through canning. The butter can be frozen but a better bet is to can it. Properly canned items can last for several years. Prepare the fruit by making a butter, jam or jelly which will require pectin or simply wash, peel, cut and blanch the fruit. Pure fruits may be blanched in water, sugar syrup, or simply soaked in citrus water. Whichever base you use, bring it to a boil and keep it hot. Have clean, sterilized jars, lids and seals ready. Heat water in a canning pot filled to half or enough to cover the jars. Place the fruit or preserves in the jars and fill with the hot water or syrup, leaving at least 1/2 inch at the top. You can also use a pickling brine for pickled pomes. Put on the seal and the ring, tightening it about 3/4 of the way. Set the jars into the canning bath for 10 to 35 minutes. The processing time will vary depending on the recipe you use and the elevation at which you are canning. It is important to have tightly sealed lids which do not spring back when touched. Allow the preserved fruit to cool naturally on the counter and date and label them before storage.
Frozen pomes are excellent for pies and desserts. Simply wash, peel, core and cut the fruit and either blanch it in sugar syrup or soak it in lemon water. Shake off excess moisture and layer the fruit on baking sheets or in freezer bags. Baking sheets work well, because they allow the fruit to fully freeze quickly in thin layers and then you can pop them off and put them in plastic containers for longer storage. Fruits that are preserved for pies may be blanched and frozen in the sugar syrup so they are ready to pour into the pie crust.
Pomes are one the greatest fruit categories for preservation in numerous ways. They are an important part of our cultural diet and are readily used in both sweet and savory applications. The wide spectrum of flavors, low moisture count and durability of pomes make them perfect examples of preserved food. Perfectly preserved pomes will feed you and your loved ones for years and take a bite out of the family grocery bill.
Images courtesy of PlantFiles.