Last fall, my CSA started sending me pears, and they didn’t stop until March. There are only so many pear salads and snacks you can make before you start craving something else. So back when I was getting 3 pears and 3 apples a week, I started drying them so they wouldn’t go to waste. They make a great travel snack, and are cheaper than buying packaged dried fruits.
Those pears were also rock hard, would ripen slowly, and then went from perfect to overripe in a blink. I learned why – pears ripen from the inside out, so by the time you notice they are ready on the outside, they are brown mush on the inside. In order to ripen in a way that is appealing to us, they need to be chilled. So refrigerate them for a couple of days, then place them in a window or in a paper bag (the latter I’ve had minimal success with, but I’m still interested in the science of why that works, so I’ll be trying again.) Luckily, it doesn’t matter if they are ripe to dry them.
I don’t have a food dehydrator, so I use the oven. This method is a bit of a crap-shoot, because the oven’s lowest temperature is hotter than a dehydrator. But I Googled and got a consensus on what times and temps to use.
Here’s the recipe*
6 pears (or apples, or a combination of the two), washed
4-6 cups cold water
¼ cup lemon juice
*As usual, this is a very fudgable recipe
Fill a large bowl with cold water, about half-full. Add lemon juice.
I don’t peel the fruit, but you can if you prefer. Slice fruit about ¼” thick (you can go thinner if you have a dehydrator, but I find for the oven anything thinner dries too much and gets pointy.) Place in the water mixture and let sit for about 30 minutes. You do this so the citric acid gets into the fruit to prevent browning.
Heat oven to lowest temperature. Mine, like most, stops at 170. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Drain fruit, and pat dry. I place them on a towel and dab with another towel. Yay for tea-towels, less paper-towel waste! Place fruit in single layer, not touching, on the cookie sheets.
Bake for 8 hours, more or less, depending on how crispy or chewy you like your fruit. I prefer mine chewy, so I start testing at 6 hours. I rotate the pans every couple of hours, and flip the fruit after 4 hours. They harden more after removal from the oven, so take them out a little softer than you are aiming for. It may take trial and error – but honestly even the errors are fantastic. Also, apples dry faster than pears, so if you are doing a combo batch, test both fruits.
Your house will smell amazing. AMAZING. I tend to have to run errands midday, so I turn off the oven when I do (safety first!) and when I get back it’s like walking into the fabled grandmother’s kitchen. Or so I hear – my grandmother was not really a baker. I digress…
Once they are out of the oven, place them on drying racks to cool. It won’t take long. Then I put them in tupperwares or baggies. If you don’t plan on using them within the week, they freeze great. I keep a baggie in my purse to stay away from the pastry case at Starbucks. My only caution – they are addicting! You could eat all 6 pears in one sitting if you aren’t careful.