The Orchard Wars
Perhaps it is instinctual, but this time of year always makes me want to preserve things. There is a pressing need to gather everything in from the garden, pick the pears and apples, press flowers, and soak in the last days of fleeting light and warmth.
Several years ago, I wrote a journal article sharing some of my rose-tinged canning with my mother and aunts during the sweet art of preserving (and my great-grandmother’s recipe for homemade applesauce). It goes far beyond canning foods from the garden and touches on what is worth preserving.
The older I get, the more I appreciate those rose-tinged memories, and find myself eager to reclaim them.Yet those days are starting to feel like family lore, instead of an ongoing tradition. Nobody has time and fresh produce is easy to access year round at our grocery stores.
Canning has always been my family’s most common method of preservation, and it is truly a labor of love. However, this year my mother is living aboard and she is usually the stalwart general leading us into the canning fray. Without her to rally the troops, far too many pears are falling to the orchard ground, everybody caught in the rush of a work, a new school year, and the surge of extracurricular activities.
In so many ways I am grateful for the conveniences of a modern life, and yet I fear losing knowledge and skill as years pass by without practice. So here I am on a personal crusade to use as many of our pears, and other garden bounty, as possible this year, and inviting friends near and far to join me. We hope to share a few ideas to preserve some of this glorious abundance.
This year I decided to try making my own dried fruit garland using apples, pears, and oranges. Having seen these around for the last several years, and decided it was the time to attempt one. After a bit of research, there are a myriad of tutorials out there, we decided to try two different methods of drying out the fruit: using the oven and air-drying.
After gathering our fruit (using a basket, or two, or three), we cut it into about 1/4” slices. For the oven method, we laid the slices on a cookie rack, while pre-heating the oven to 170F. Once the oven is hearted—it won’t take long for such a low temperature—place the fruits in the oven for 5-8 hours. I highly recommend setting a reminder to turn your oven off so you don’t forget. After removing them from the oven, the fruit may still be a bit squishy or sticky to the touch. Let the fruit continue to air dry for a day or two before threading your garland.
The second method is to allow the fruit to air dry over the course of several weeks. I personally prefer this method, as the fruit retained better color over time, and had less browning overall. String the fruit together, using twine and an upholstery needle. For this method we knotted the twin between each slice of fruit to keep them away from each other to allow them to fully dry.
After stringing the fruit together, place it in the window to try for about two weeks. This method takes longer, but it has a unique beauty of its own as you observe the change in the fruit each day. It was a daily reminder to savor life and observe the incremental changes.
Once all of the fruit was stringing the garland we again used a simple thin twine and an upholstery needle. To keep the fruit sitting flat along your garland, puncture through the fruit flesh twice. I am already enjoying these festive harvest garlands in my home as a way to pay homage to the bounty of the season.
While these dried fruit garlands will be ornamental, I am also drying some fruits to be eaten as well. Dried or dehydrated fruits are by my favorite way to savor the garden for months to come. Dried pears are better than candy in our house, hoarding and doling them out for a sweet treat after dinner. While it’s fairly simple if you have a fruit dehydrator, we do one little thing to make them extra tasty. Pears are prone to quick browning once you slice them open. To keep them from browning as you slice enough to fill the dehydrator, let them soak in bowl filled with ginger ale.
I love to use the our garden bounty in season too, not just preserve them for future use. So I would be remiss if I failed to mention a few of my favorite harvest recipes. Currently my garden is just overflowing with zucchini and summer squash—perfect for a weekly dish of ratatouille and a few loaves of zucchini bread.
Growing up, one of my favorite autumn meals was something my mother called “garden spaghetti”. It’s exactly what it sounds like, but instead of a plain regular marinara sauce, my mother would pack the sauce with as many chopped garden veggies as possible: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, summer squash, celery, onions, and more. It was a bit of a goulash ladled onto of a dish of spaghetti. Last week was our inaugural dish of garden spaghetti for the season, and I am looking forward to enjoying it as much as I can.
We also love to make homemade pizzas using our fresh garden produce for toppings. My favorite combination is pear with a strong cheese like feta or gorgonzola, and drizzled with balsamic glaze. My husband likes a his with mozzarella, pepperoni, fresh jalapeños, basil, lime and a bit of sriracha sauce. We also love one with thin slices of zucchini sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
While our ideas are not encompassing of all the garden bounty, we hope it sparked some of your own creativity when it comes to what you currently have in your garden, or what you may want to plant in years to come. Read more about preserving flowers in a unique way by reading this journal here.
Shop for a few of our favorite items as part of our harvest collection that we love to use this time of year including my favorite linen apron and the brass funnel that I swear makes things taste better just because it is so exquisitely beautiful.