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, which provides basic information on sun-drying and dehydrating plums, is from Chapter 8, “Leathers, Baby Food, and Prepared Foods.”
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Plums of some variety grow throughout the continental United States, both in commercial production and in the wild. Generally, trees bear heavily, so fresh plums are readily available in most areas. Most plum varieties can be dehydrated. Purchased prunes are made from so-called “prune-plums,” which are purplish to blue-black in color. Other plum varieties produce dried plums that look quite different from prunes; red-skinned plums, for example, produce dried plums with rich, deep reddish skin and golden-orange flesh. Plums are delicious when cut into slices or chunks and candied.
For dehydrating, choose taut-skinned plums that are just ripe and yield slightly to pressure; if the plums are too soft, it is really difficult to remove the pits. Prune-plums are generally freestone, meaning that the flesh pulls away easily from the pit. Other varieties may be clingstone, which are much more difficult to pit. While plums can be dehydrated whole, you’ll get better results if you pit the fruit and cut it in half or into quarters. If you do choose to dry whole plums, you must check (break) the skins by boiling whole fruits for 1-1/2 minutes, then plunging into ice water.
To prepare plums, wash them well and remove any stem remnants. Use a paring knife or sharp, serrated tomato knife to cut the plum in half, following the natural seam and cutting just until the knife encounters the pit. Hold the plum in both hands and twist gently in opposite directions; if the fruits are freestone, one half should pop away from the pit (if it doesn’t, you probably have a clingstone variety; see the next paragraph for an alternative cutting method). Now remove the pit from the other half; if the pit doesn’t come out easily, use the tip of your knife to carefully cut the flesh close to the pit until you can separate them. Dry the halves as they are, or cut each pitted half vertically to quarter the fruit, if you like. For faster drying (or if your plums are large), cut each half into 4 pieces, or chop into 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks.
Clingstone plum varieties are really difficult to pit cleanly; you’ll usually end up mangling the fruit. If your plums are small (as is usually the case with wild plums), it’s best to simply check the whole fruits as described above and dry them with the pits in. Larger plums are best cut into slices or chunks. Simply cut the fruit from top to bottom into 3/8-inch slices (1/2-inch slices if you want to dry the fruit in chunks), cutting parallel to the natural seam and skimming the knife along the edge of the pit when you get towards the center of the fruit. When you’ve sliced off the sides of the fruit, cut off the flesh around the pit in the center section that remains. Cut each 3/8-inch slice in half so you have two half-round pieces, or cut the 1/2-inch slices into chunks that are 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide.
Plums need no pretreatment. When drying halves, it’s best to “pop” the fruit before putting it on the trays; this exposes more of the flesh and speeds drying. Hold a half in your fingers, cut-side up, and push the skin side upward with your thumbs to turn it inside out.
Doneness Test: Flexible and somewhat springy, with no moisture in the thickest part; if pieces feel mushy rather than springy, they are not dry enough. The skins and flesh will be darker than those of the fresh fruits; color will depend on the type of plum used.
Yield: Yield varies depending on size; 4 pounds of fresh, whole plums generally yield a bit more than a quart of dried slices or chunks. When rehydrated, 1 cup of dried plum chunks (without pits) yields about 1-3/4 cups.
To Use: Dried plums have a delicious sweet-tart flavor and chewy texture; they are excellent eaten as a snack. Home-dried plums may be used in any recipe calling for prunes; if you’ve dried your plums whole, be sure to remove the pit before using! When coarsely chopped, dried plums may be used in place of raisins in cookies and quickbreads. Dried plums may also be plumped by steaming over boiling water until tender, generally 3 to 5 minutes. To rehydrate pieces, hot-soak in water to cover by an inch for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours, or cold-soak in water to cover by an inch overnight. Halves, slices, or chopped plums also may be puréed in the blender after soaking or cooking for a delicious sauce. Dried prune-plums are sometimes puréed and used to replace some of the fat in baked goods; prune purée pairs particularly nicely with chocolate.
Want to learn more about sun-drying fruits? Read Sun-Drying Fruit at Home for more information.
Use a screen when drying chunks. When drying halves, position them on trays/racks with the cut side up; when the cut side no longer looks wet, turn halves over and continue drying. Plum quarters, slices, or chunks generally take 8 to 12 hours at 135 degrees F; halves generally take 12 to 18 hours, and whole plums may take up to 36 hours, depending on size.
When drying halves, position them on drying screens with the cut side up. At the start of the second day, or when the cut side no longer looks wet, turn halves over and continue drying. Plum quarters, slices, or chunks will probably take 2 to 3 days to dry completely; halves generally take 3 to 4 days, and whole plums may take up to 5 days, depending on size.
Plum halves and whole plums take longer than 18 hours and are not recommended. Use a screen when drying chunks. Rearrange pieces every few hours. At 135 degrees F, plum quarters, slices, or chunks may take as little as 8 hours to dry, or as long as 18 hours.
Reprinted with permission from The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods by Teresa Marrone and published by Storey Publishing, 2014. Buy this book from our store: The Beginner’s Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods.