At this time of year, wild fruit is the easiest to find, although you might want to hurry before the real frost hits. The trees have lost their leaves, and the apples or pears are very visible on the almost naked limbs. There are probably plenty more on the ground too! The other day, I managed to pick a bucket each of pears and apples. The apples I used for my Turkish delight – but unaccustomed to finding pears, I wanted to use them in as many ways as possible – even with this small amount.
Feral fruit, i.e. from fruit trees which have been abandoned and left to grow willy nilly, are a great source for cooking. They may be small, irregular, and have a few blemishes on the skin, but I find I can always count on them to be flavourful, chemical free and just plain free. I only buy organic pears and apples from the markets since the others are notorious for their chemical content, but these can be costly and hard to find, so when available I am more than happy to forage for them. I collected a mixture of pears with light green, brown, yellow and pink skins. I have no idea what variety they had been originally, but presume they have been hybridized.
With my small harvest, this is what I did:
Dehydrate: This method is not only a practical way to preserve and store the fruit, but results in a sweetness and flavour surpasses the raw fruit. To dehydrate pears, unlike apples, it is best to peel them, because the skin is tough and gritty. I did not soak them in an ascorbic acid infusion to prevent browning because I planned to use them baking, the colour didn’t matter and the taste is the same. If you want to preserve the colour, soak them for a few minutes in a solution of the juice of one lemon to one cup of water. I used a dehydrator because the recommended temperature is between 135 and 160 degrees F and my oven does not register that low. They are ready when they feel dry but are still a bit flexible, not brittle. Let them cool and store in bags or jars.
Because I had peeled them, I had some very nice organic peels to use up. Taking my cue from a trusted fellow blogger, Urban Nettle who recently wrote about using the skins of russet apples to make a sugar-like powder, I decided to do the same with my pear skins. They need to be dehydrated until they are quite brittle. Once cooled, they can be ground to a fine powder and used as a sweetener. The taste is very sweet and the texture granular – much like sugar but with a definite pear flavour. I look forward to experimenting with this new (for me) ingredient.
Scrap Vinegar: With some pears still to use, I decided to make an actual recipe, which meant more peeling and more peels, so a scrap vinegar seemed in order. The most quoted authority on this subject is Sandor Elix Katz and his book “Wild Fermentation” where the science behind this method is fully explained. It seems to be catching on, and no wonder, since it means you can turn all kinds of scraps – peels, cores, over-ripe fruit into a tasty and nutritious vinegar. To do this, I loosely filled a quart jar about half full with the peels and added two heaping tablespoons of raw honey. I then almost filled the jar with non-chlorinated water, put the lid loosely on and left to ferment in a cool place out of direct light. Stirring once a day is all the attention it needs for about a week when it gets fizzy, after which time it can be strained and left to ferment another few days, depending on how strong you want the result to be. This can be used as you would any vinegar, or mixed into a drink.
This vinegar will have to sit a few more days before I can use it, but at this point it has a delicious fruity scent. The rest of the pears I roasted and used them to make a vegan stuffing which I will post within the next couple of days