Our first prize in the Touraine internet competition included two tickets to the 'poires tapées' museum in Rivarennes, north-northwest of Azay-le-Rideau. The best way to translate 'poires tapées' would probably be 'crushed pears'. The museum is housed in a typical troglodyte cave. It's privately owned and we were greeted by the owner who showed us around and explained the traditional part of the production process.
A pizza-like wood oven is heated to a very high temperature while the pears are being peeled and put side by side - not touching - in large trays. These are shoved into the by then hot oven, where they stay to dry for 36 hours. After that, the pears are taken out and turned over, while the oven is being fired up again. The pears go in a second time for about 24 hours.
Once they have cooled down, they are crushed and flattened. This is done manually, using a torture-like wooden tool. Then the basic product is ready. It is sold as such in small cellophane bags. If you like dried figs and prunes, you'll probably like theses 'poires tapées' as well. Although they are slightly drier and not as sweet.
The other products are nowadays prepared in plants that comply with the strict EEC sanitary guidelines. The dried pears are rehydrated and preserved in alcohol. Once they have absorbed the flavour of the alcohol, they can be eaten as a dessert, accompanying vanilla ice cream, for instance. Often some of the alcohol is poured over the ice cream as well.
Of course, there are other ways of using the rehydrated pears. Their texture is slightly chewy, but they are far more juicy than the basic product. The latter can also be used as a substitute for dried prunes in traditional dishes such as 'canard aux pruneaux' or 'lapin aux pruneaux'. Bon appetit!