Apple and Pear Harvest, Oh My!, by K.B.

We are definitely nearing tree fruit harvest time in our part of the country. Our orchard includes apples, Asian pears, and European pears. Yum! The only problem is what to do with the blessing of so much bounty. It is a bit intimidating to look around and see ten or more 5-gallon pails of fruit awaiting your attention. What to do? Well, one can share with family, friends, or food pantries for the needy. Hmmm, there is the cold cellar and refrigerator. But, you still want to have some after the fresh fruit is gone so that leaves drying, canning, freezing, and cider production. You, however, want to wait until the fruit is ready for picking. When is that?

Is It Ready Yet?

Our apple trees include Enterprise, Liberty, Arkansas, and Arkansas Black varieties. Each will ripen at its own rate. Occasionally check a windfall apple. Sample it to see if it peels easily and has developed sweet, juicy, flavorful flesh. If not, wait longer. If yes, get to work. There is also the “oh my goodness” test of seeing apples dropping from the tree like rain in a light wind. That tells you that picking time is a rush job *today*.

Useful equipment to have on hand is the following: a sturdy A-frame ladder, an apple picker (metal cage device on the end of a long pole), several clean 5-gallon pails, a smaller bucket, and a helper to serve as your go-for when you are up on the ladder. It is helpful to also have a pick-up truck to stand the ladder in to enable picking the highest fruit! Designate one pail to hold any fruit that falls off the tree as it will be bruised and needs to be used quickly. How to pick the apples? Grasp one in your hand and pull up gently so as to preserve the branch to produce next year’s fruit. Pick apples and carefully place them into the smaller pail. When full, pass it to the helper to gently empty into the larger pails.

Asian pears need to pass a similar ripeness test as they do not ripen off the tree unlike European pears. Sample a windfall for each type checking how it peels plus the sweetness and juiciness of flesh. We have both Shinko and Korean Giant varieties so that they would cross-pollinate. Korean Giant pears get large, but Shinko do a great job of setting and may have to be thinned so that the limbs do not break.

This is the first year that our European pears have ever produced, due to a cross-pollination problem. Our first trees were Potomac and Maxine varieties which failed to pollinate at the same time so we later obtained a Moonglow tree to bridge the pollination gap. It seems so far to work better for the Potomac tree than for the Maxine. When are European pears ready? Watch for subtle changes in color (from green to pale yellow for our trees) and do the horizontal lift test. Gently grasp a likely pear and lift the base so that it is horizontal with the neck. If it detaches, that is a good sign. European pears can ripen further on the kitchen counter and Potomac pears have the best flavor when cured.

Kitchen Work

To process quantities of fruit, you will need the following equipment: a combination peeler/slicer/corer, water bath canner, canning jars, canning lids (note whether you need wide or regular mouth lids for your jars), a jar lifter, a copy of the Ball Blue Book canning book, and probably also a roasting pan. You may also want pint freezer bags as frozen apples are good for easy pies and other desserts.


Set up the apple peeler so that you can process lots of washed apples efficiently and drop them into a large bowl of water acidified with bottled lemon juice. We then use the fruit in the following ways: frozen in bags, applesauce, apple butter, cinnamon apples, red hot stewed apples, and juice or hard cider. We like to fill freezer pint bags with a combination of 2 cups sliced apples plus 1/3 cup of white granulated sugar. We use these later to make apple pies and apple cobblers. They are especially delicious when combining one bag of sweetened freezer apples with 2 or more cups of ripe berries plus a tablespoon of instant tapioca granules. For a super easy pie crust, mix 1 1/3 cup flour with 3/4 teaspoon salt then add 1/3 cup oil plus 3 tablespoons milk and stir all together. Roll out the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Yield: 1 crust, either top or bottom.

To make applesauce, you may follow the instructions in the Ball Blue Book or do this: place peeled, cored, sliced apples in a large pan with a little water. Heat and stir frequently to prevent sticking until apples have make a nice thick chunky sauce. Ladle into hot jars and follow the canning book instructions. You may want to invest in a stainless steel canning funnel to fit the mouth of your canning jars. It definitely helps with filling them carefully.

Apple Butter

For apple butter, we use a recipe given to us by a friend:
12 cups peeled, cored, sliced apples
2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup water
2 T cider vinegar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon each ground allspice and ground nutmeg

We then put it all into a large enamel roaster at 350 degrees for up to two hours stirring hourly and mashing it a little bit with a potato masher. The longer the baking time is, the thicker the apple butter will be. We usually double the above recipe which then fills 13 half pints. Water bath can it for 20 minutes. (Our friend uses a large crock pot for the 12 cup size recipe.)

Other Apple Recipes

For red hot apple wedges, I use the recipe available at Experimental Homesteader.
It makes enough liquid for seven pints of apples. These have a very slightly pickled flavor.

For the really sweet stewed red candy apple slices, I use the recipe at These Old Cookbooks.

I don’t bother to can these as I make them just once a year with fresh apples.
For juice, we use a cider press. You will also need an apple grinder. It takes the apples (peels, cores, and all) and crushes them into smaller pieces that are then pressed for the juice. We obtained our equipment from Pleasant Hill Grain. These appliances are manual – so you will need a strong back and arms. They can also be used for other fruit besides apples, such as European or Asian pears. Do not use them for stone fruit such as peaches, however. Be aware, a cider setup will cost you several hundred dollars when purchased new.

You might be able to find used equipment such as fruit presses if you live in an area with lots of small fruit producers, but it might not be the quality you desire.

It takes a lot of apples to make juice. Four 5-gallon pails of apples might yield 2 gallons of apple juice, although this varies by year and it will also vary significantly according to the variety of apple. This is not the type of juice that you are used to tasting from the grocery. This is very, very sweet and concentrated. It also tastes very crisp and fresh, in a way that is hard to describe. Used straight, it is not quite a syrup, but halfway there. Our son used some of the excess juice to make a hard cider.


Asian pears are delightfully crisp, but have less acidity than European pears. Because of this difference, Asian pears must be acidified with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per pint or 2 tablespoons per quart before canning. We choose to can our Asian pears in a very light syrup.

Here is what we do:
Weigh 15 pounds of pears, peel and core using the device and then slice each pear by hand into 4
or more pieces. Drop them into acidified water (add bottled lemon juice so they don’t brown) while processing the rest of the pears. Boil pear pieces for 5 minutes than pack into hot jars. Add bottled lemon juice as explained above, and then fill with an extra light syrup. (To make the syrup combine 10 cups of water with 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons of white sugar and cook in a large saucepan until the sugar is dissolved.) This extra light syrup is the perfect accompaniment to the delicate flavor of the pears. Prepare the jars as usual (wipe rims, stir out bubbles, put on lids, place and tighten rings) then process in a water bath for 20 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts. Fifteen pounds of unprocessed pears yields 12 pints.

We also process Asian pears and use them for pear mincemeat utilizing the recipe given in the Ball Blue Book. It is delicious, but very sweet. We like to peel and slice a few apples, enough to fill a pie plate, and then pour a pint of the pear mincemeat over the top and bake as a pie or cobbler. It is marvelous! Asian pears also make nicely spiced pickled pears using the recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook.

For the first time this year, we are looking forward to having a harvest of European pears. We will process some for canning per the Ball Blue Book but are also looking forward to fresh pear pie.

Here is my simple Asian Pear recipe:

Peel and slice 2 pounds of pears
Add 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice and stir.
To 1/2 cup of sugar, add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg,
And 1/4 cup of instant tapioca granules. Stir the dry ingredients together then add to the fruit.
Put into a pie crust. Top with another crust and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until done.
Cool and enjoy.


Well, friends, I hope that this article gives you a few ideas on how to use the rich bounty that may be in your own orchard this year or in the future. It is a lot of work, but it is well worth it in order to prepare for hard times, learn new skills, and to provide the finest available fruit for your table.