Canning or freezing fruit is not the only way to preserve it. Dehydrating or drying it can be an acceptable and tasty alternative.
Dried fruit is not only nutritious and sweet, but it`s also as easy to make as it is to store, carry and enjoy. Drying fruit yourself also helps you avoid the sugar, additives and chemical preservatives that many brands of commercially dried fruit contain. It`s also far less expensive.
Choose fruit that is ripe and unblemished. Don`t use fruit that has bruises, mold or other obvious defects, because those bruises can affect the quality of that fruit and any fruit dried with it. Wash your fruit thoroughly before starting the drying process.
Fruit with tough, waxy skins like cherries, figs, firm berries, grapes, small plums and prunes will not dry properly unless you crack the skin to let moisture escape. Plunge the fruit into rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute. Scoop it out and place it right into a bowl of ice-cold water. Let the fruit drain on paper towels before pre-treating it.
Fruit loses a bit of vitamin C in the drying process, though most other vitamins and fiber stay intact. It can also discolor. Pre-treating the fruit with ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, will help to solve both of these problems. Pre-treating fruit with vitamin C also helps to kill dangerous bacteria that may develop during the drying process, such as E-coli, listeria and salmonella.
Slice or peel your fruit into a solution made of equal parts lemon juice and cold water. Let the fruit soak for 10 minutes and then remove it from the solution with a slotted spoon and let it drain on paper towels.
Sun drying fruit is the oldest known method of dehydration and requires no special equipment. A simple window screen set on wood blocks is the simplest air-drying tray, but don`t use aluminum or galvanized screening unless you put several layers of cheesecloth between it and the fruit. Air circulation is key to dehydrating fruit, so don`t try to dry fruit on paper towels or cloth dishtowels. Set the tray in a sunny spot when the temperature is between 90 F and 100 F by noon and the humidity is below 60 percent. Apples will take between six and ten hours while lush fruits like peaches can take as long as 36 hours.
Oven drying allows you to control the temperature at which the fruit is drying, though it is not much faster than air-drying. Take your oven racks out of the oven and line them with two layers of cheesecloth. Preheat your oven to 140 while you lay your fruit out in a single layer on the racks. Place the fruit an inch or so apart from each other to encourage air circulation. Replace the racks in the oven and leave the door open a few inches so moisture can escape. Turn the fruit over every two hours or so until it is leathery and pliable when still hot. Let a few pieces cool to room temperature and squeeze them in your hand. If no juice comes out and they spring back to their original shape, they`re dry.
Dehydrator drying requires a home dehydrator, but it is the simplest, quickest and most reliable method. You also don`t have to worry about birds or other critters stealing your fruit as you do with air drying or scorching the fruit as can happen in the oven. Each dehydrator is slightly different, so read the owner`s manual and follow the manufacturer`s instructions.
Once the fruit is dried, place it in lightly covered jars and store it in a warm, dry place for 10 days, shaking the jars occasionally to distribute any residual moisture before transferring it to sealed containers. The fine folks at StoreItFoods.com have a storage system for every need and they highly recommend that you visit the experienced and knowledgeable professionals at Rangemaster for advice on choosing the perfect kitchen appliance to complement your lifestyle and your decor.