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Make Your Own Dried Fruit and Vegetables

Drying your own fruits and vegetables is not only tasty and nutritious, it is also a great way to save money and avoid preservatives.

| February/March 1993

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    Dried fruits and vegetables that stay fresh makes it easy to have delicious meals all year long.

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Preserving food may not leap to mind as a mid-winter activity. But at our house, dry-preserving goes on year-round since the kids' favorite school snacks are dried fruit-pulp "leathers:" As a result, the canisters of dried goodies need continual replenishing.

Drying is the easiest and oldest food-preservation method known. Thousands of years ago, our forebears learned that by removing moisture from food, they could concentrate natural salts and sugars so that the action of decay enzymes was slowed and bacteria and molds would not flourish. Here in the Americas, corn and beans were left in the field to dry, berries and sectioned squash were sun- or air-dried on mats, and meat and fish were salted and dried over smoky fires.

Even in the computer age, you can achieve good (if slow) results drying food the natural way with the heat of the sun or by putting cold weather to work (frozen water will gradually "sublime" off). You'll get faster and more consistent results in any season and any weather by drying in a slow, 120°F oven with the door cracked. ( See Build a Food Dehydrator to learn how to construct your own multiple-energy food dryer for a fraction of the cost of purchasing one.)

When drying food, keep in mind that it must be dry through to the center, and that the thinner you slice the food, the faster it will dry and the better it will keep. Next fall, practice country frugality and use ground-falls, blemished, or even wormy fruit by carefully cutting out the defects before drying. In cold weather, you can get cut-priced fruit from the over-aged-produce racks at the back of the store, cut out the bad spots and dry the rest.

Drying Fruit

You can save money (and avoid the MSG, sulfur, and other additives in commercial-dried products) by cutting fruit that's edible out-of-hand into 1/2" to 1/4" thick slices and drying it yourself. Slices of tart eating apples, plums, or apricot halves are the best teething rings around. A bland and mealy banana becomes sugary circles of tropical flavor. Pineapple becomes a tangy, all-natural candy you'll want to give the kids. (Before drying, dip sliced fruit briefly in a mixture of six 500-mg. tablets of ascorbic acid — vitamin C — dissolved in two cups of water to preserve the color.)

Raspberries can be dried but become hard little seed balls. Strawberries are great; hull and halve, mix with an equal part of sugar, let sit to bring out juice, then dry. Peel, slice, and dry rhubarb stalks (not the toxic leaves). Refresh for several hours in cool water along with strawberries for February pies that will surprise you with their summer flavor. Pit sour pie cherries and mix with an equal measure of sugar as with strawberries. Bring currants to a rolling boil in equal parts of sugar and water, skim off the fruit, and dry for hot-cross buns. You can use the currant juice in leathers or add it to apple juice for jelly.

Julie Charbonneau
8/27/2008 9:03:18 PM

I have tried drying meat (not jerky style) and have not been successful. I used organic poultry twice and could not rehydrate it. It remained hard even after a lenghty boil. Any idea how to do it well? I am using an Excalibur 2900 food dryer.

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