Sun-Drying Fruit at Home

Create and preserve some healthy and delicious snacks by sun-drying fruit.


| February 2015



Sun-Drying Fruit

A cake-cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet makes a well-functioning drying tray.


Illustration by Holly Exley

It's possible to dehydrate vegetables, fruits, meats, herbs and even prepared meals. Drying is simple, safe and it offers delicious and lightweight options for campers, food gardeners or anyone with a surplus of fresh food. Teresa Marrone will help you get started with dehydrating in The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Fruits (Storey Publishing, 2014). This excerpt, from Chapter 3, “Equipment,” provides tips and information that will help you get started with sun-drying fruit around your house.

Buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Fruits.

Sun-Drying Fruit

Sun-dried fruits are delicious; indeed, most raisins you buy in the store have been sun-dried, and commercial producers also sun-dry apricots, peaches, and other fruits. If you are blessed with clean air, low humidity, and an abundance of hot, sunny days, sun-drying is the least expensive method of dehydrating fruits and leathers. The advantages to sun-drying are obvious. The energy of the sun is absolutely free, requiring no outlay for electricity. There is no investment in equipment and just a handful of other expenses, since all the necessary materials can be assembled at home. Unlike other drying methods, there is no capacity limit in sun-drying. The only limit to the amount of food that can be dried at one time is the number of trays available and space to set them.

For reliable sun-drying at home, daytime temperatures must be 90 degrees F or above and the relative humidity must below 60 percent — the lower, the better. If the temperature is too low, the humidity too high, or both, spoilage will occur before the foods are adequately dry. The Southwest region of the United States has an ideal summer climate for sun-drying, but other regions are not so fortunate; for example, sun-drying should not be attempted in the humid Southeast. Summer conditions in the Northwest, Midwest, and Northeast are better but may still be marginal. Even if your location is marginal, however, you can use the sun when conditions are good, then fall back on a dehydrator or the oven to finish off a batch on those days when a sudden rainstorm or a low cloud ceiling hampers your sun-drying operation.

Although sun-drying vegetables, meats, and fish is a technique that was used for centuries, modern food science tells us that sun-drying at home should be used only for fruits, which are high in natural acids and sugar. (The exception to this is hot chile peppers, which can simply be strung together and hung in the sun.) Instructions are not given in my book, The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods, for sun-drying vegetables, meats, or fish; should you choose to do so, the basic techniques are the same as those used for fruits. Remember that tomatoes are a fruit — not a vegetable — so they are safe for sun-drying.

To dry fruit in the sun, you’ll need drying trays and something to cover the fruit to protect it from insects and dirt. Baking sheets or homemade wooden trays may be used as drying trays, but drying is much more efficient if air can circulate freely around the fruit. Wooden frames covered with screens or other mesh-type material are a better choice. Many people use window frames that are being removed during remodeling projects; these can be cleaned up and fitted with new screens to use as your drying trays. If the windows date to 1978 or earlier, however, they may be painted with lead-based paint and should not be used unless you can confirm that the paint is lead-free. You can also make simple wooden frames, sealing the wood with food-grade mineral oil for durability.





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