Drying Apples and Pears


Posted: September 7, 2012

Apples and pears dry especially well and make tasty, nutritious snacks that are lightweight and easy to store and use. Drying is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods. Increasing the temperature of the food makes its moisture evaporate, and air moving over the food carries the moisture away. A balance of temperature and humidity is needed for successful drying of foods. High humidity and low temperatures can cause food to dry too slowly encouraging the growth of microorganisms.

If you don’t have a food dehydrator, oven drying works well if you can set the oven to a temperature of 140° to 150°F. Open the oven door about 2 inches to allow moisture to escape. A convection oven works well because it combines low heat with a fan to move the air. While many commercially dried foods are sun dried, this method is suitable only where there is low humidity. Sun drying does not work well here in Pennsylvania. Commercially made and homemade food dehydrators give a better quality dried product than other methods. 

As with other methods of preserving food, the end quality will only be as good as the food you start with. Select ripe fruit for drying. Trim away any bruised spots. Apples and pear slices may be peeled or unpeeled, but peeled fruit will dry more quickly.

Apples and pears need to be pre-treated to reduce oxidation. Soak freshly cut slices for 10 minutes in a solution of 3¾ teaspoons of powdered ascorbic acid (or crush twenty 500mg vitamin C tablets) or ½ teaspoon of powdered citric acid in 2 cups water. A solution of one part bottled lemon juice to one part water can be substituted for the ascorbic acid solution. Both pre-treatments help preserve color and improve vitamin C content. The process also may act as an antimicrobial agent against harmful bacteria. 

Other methods of pretreating the fruit include syrup blanching and steam or water blanching. Sulfuring and sulfite dips are not recommended due to sensitivity issues— particularly for people with asthmatic or respiratory conditions.

Syrup blanching involves simmering the prepared fruit for 10 minutes in a sugar syrup (1 cup sugar, 1 cup white corn syrup, and 2 cups water) and then letting it stand in the hot syrup 30 to 45 minutes before draining, rinsing, and placing on drying trays. Syrup blanched fruit is sweeter and also sticker than fruit treated by other methods. It tastes like candied fruit.

Cut apples or pears into ⅛ to ½ inch slices. Thinly sliced apples will dry as apple chips. Have uniform pieces to assist in uniformity of drying across the entire piece. Peeling apples or pears is an option. Although apples and pears sometimes have the skin left on, the skin tends to toughen as it dries. The skin also reduces surface area preventing moisture from escaping and increases the drying time. Place pre-treated slices on dryer trays in a single layer so that edges do not touch or overlap. Place trays in a preheated dehydrator.

Initially, the temperature can be set to 145°F when there is surface moisture on the fruit. After one hour reduce temperature to 135 to 140°F to finish drying the slices. If the fruit is dried at too high a temperature the outer surface will harden preventing moisture from escaping from the center of the slice; this is called case hardening.

It will take 6 to 12 hours for apple slices to dry; pears may take longer. Test for dryness. Remove a few slices from the dryer and wait a few minutes until cool. Apples and pears are dry when they are pliable and no beads of moisture form when pressed between your fingers. Thinly sliced apples can be dried to form apple chips. Pears will be more leathery.

Because not all slices will dry evenly, it will be necessary to condition the fruit. Pack the cooled slices loosely into an air tight glass or plastic container for several days to distribute the remaining moisture evenly. If any moisture or condensation forms on the inside of the container, the fruit is not adequately dry. Put it back into the dehydrator and continue drying.

Unpeeled fruit or uncovered fruit may need to be treated to destroy insect eggs that might have gotten on the fruits. You may destroy some insect eggs by placing them in the freezer at 0°F or below for 48 hours. Store in air tight containers in a cool, dark, dry place. The shelf life of dried fruits is increased when they are stored in the freezer or refrigerator.

Applesauce or pear sauce can be dried by themselves or in combination with other fruit purees to make fruit leathers. These two sauces have a lower water content than many fruit purees and dry more quickly as leathers. Their mild flavor also combines well with spices such as cinnamon and cloves or the leathers can be sprinkled with chopped nuts before drying. For guidelines for making fruit leathers visit our earlier posting on "Homemade Fruit Roll-ups".