Dehydration is one of the oldest and simplest methods of preserving food. Even in this age of high technology, the basics of drying fruit remain unchanged.
Fruit dehydration essentially involves removing water so that natural sugars, and nutritional benefits, are concentrated while the fruit becomes sweeter. Following are several methods you can use.
This seems the easiest and most straightforward method, but there are some considerations.
* For best results, you need a sunny spot and three or four warm, sunny days in a row.
* If you are drying fruit outdoors, be prepared to quickly bring it inside if there is a rain shower.
* A screened area is preferred; otherwise fruit needs to be covered with cheesecloth so that it is protected from insects.
This method is fairly successful if your oven will hold a temperature below 150 degrees Fahrenheit, but it takes a long time and is far from energy efficient. The ideal temperature for drying fruit is between 120-140 degrees.
An electric dehydrator employs a small heat source, a fan to circulate the air, and controls for regulating temperature.
Being able to control drying temperatures makes all the difference. If your heat is too high, even by a few degrees, your fruit will cook, rather than dry. If temperature is too low, the fruit is likely to spoil before it is dried. If the fruit is over-dried, it will lose flavor and nutritive value.
How to know when fruit is dried
Manufacturers of electric dehydrators supply instructions for using their product, but the best way to know that fruit is dried is to examine it. Most fruit should be pliable, bend but not break easily, when properly dried. If you break a piece of fruit apart and see moisture beads or if the fruit feels sticky, it is not dry. If it is hard (rather than crisp), colorless, and “dry as a chip,” it is probably over-dried.
Additionally, humidity, size, thickness and juiciness of your pieces of fruit, all affect drying times. Slices no more than 1/8-inch thick work best.
How to store dehydrated fruit
Proper storage is the key to maintaining a supply of interestingly delicious dried fruit.
Dried fruit may be stored in air-tight containers placed in a cool, dark area.
Many experienced cooks store their dehydrated fruit in the freezer, using jars with tight screw-lids or a vacuum sealer and plastic storage bags. The dried fruit uses a minimum of freezer space and you are never disappointed with results simply because your fruit is less dry or more dry than you had expected.
Click here for a further discussion of dehydro-freezing
Special tips for drying fruit
Because cut apples tend to turn brown when exposed to the air, many cooks will give them a soak in acidulated water. This is not harmful and does not produce an off flavor but adds moisture to the dehydration process and can be eliminated.
Try dehydrating canned pineapple slices when fresh pineapple is not available. It will take up to twice as long to dry but the flavor is excellent.
Cherries and Blueberries
Dehydrated cherries should be cut in half, pits removed, and placed in dehydrator trays with the cut side down. Use them like extra-sweet, extra-delicious raisins in recipes and trail mixes.
If you value the enzymes on the skin of blueberries, dehydrate them without washing. If you would rather wash them, place blueberries in a colander and dip in boiling water for 15 seconds.
Dehydrating fruit seems like a long, time-consuming process, but an electric dehydrator does most of the work with a minimum amount of energy consumption.
Most important, your home-prepared fruit, dried to your specifications will add sparkle and interest to your recipes and enhance your reputation as a good and innovative cook.