Fresh fruits and berries galore are up for grabs when the weather warms up, making healthy snacking a little bit easier and more delicious! In-season fruit is healthier, cheaper, and yummier so get it while the gettin's good!
You can even plan ahead and buy berries and fruit in bulk while they're in season and preserve them to eat healthy all year round. Drying is one way to do so – it's simple, economical, and requires little in the way of special equipment. Because there is no long cooking involved, drying fruits preserves more nutrients than canning.
And kids looooove it. In fact, I don't think my 3 year old really knows the difference between dried berries and candy. You can dry fruit whole, sliced, chopped, or as fruit “leather.” Here are some of the basics of dried fruit.
You can dry fruit using very simple implements you probably have on hand, or you can use more specialized equipment. If you live in a hot, dry climate, all you need is a screen, a cloth, and the sun. More humid climates require an oven or a home dehydrator. Even in a humid climate a sunny day may do the trick – you can even dry fruit in your parked car with the windows cracked.
Nearly all fruit can be dried by one method or another, as long as it is just ripe, not overripe. If your fruit is already overripe, you can use it to make fruit leather.
Preparing the fruit
Technically, you don't need to do anything to the fruit besides dry it; but steam blanching for 2-5 minutes can increase the shelf life of the fruit by destroying decay-producing enzymes. And dipping the fruit in various types of solutions can enhance color retention. A universal dip that works for all fruits is made by mixing 2 tablespoons of powdered ascorbic or citric acid (or five 1-gram vitamin C tablets, crushed) with 1 quart of water. Dip fruit for 5 minutes.
Methods of Drying Fruit
Berries, apples, peaches, and bananas are good choices for fruit leathers. Puree seeded, pitted, peeled raw fruit in a food mill or blender and pour it no more than 1/4″ deep onto a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet with sides. Dry the puree in a 135 degree oven for 8-10 hours. Then, turn the leather out onto another lined cookie sheet, peel off the original parchment paper, and continue the process for another 8-10 hours. You can use a spoon handle to keep the oven door cracked so it will not get too hot.
Nearly all fruits lend themselves to this method. You will need some sort of screened frame, which you can make yourself by stretching screen or cheesecloth over old picture frames. If you use window screens or other metal screening, lay a cloth over the screen before placing the fruit on it. Cover the fruit-covered screen with cheesecloth or another screen to keep away insects and birds. Bring the screens in at night. After about two days, turn the fruit and continue leaving it in the sun for another two days.
Expect to pay anywhere from $35-$250 for a dehydrator, depending on the size and brand. With that variable a price range, you can probably find one that fits your needs. They do, of course, use electricity.
You may want to use an oven thermometer in order to get the right oven temperature, 145 degrees, which will need to be maintained with the oven door ajar (for circulation and temperature regulation). It will take 4-12 hours for the fruit to dry completely – dry small batches at a time or it will take a long time.
Once your fruit is dry, place it in airtight containers such as glass jars or zip-top plastic bags. Light and moisture destroy dried fruit quickly, so put such containers into a paper bag in a cool, dry place.
That's all there is to it! Will you be drying any fruit this year?