Back in the old days when I was raising my family I use to spend much of the summer in the garden. From early spring before the last frost was gone to fall when the first hard frost killed anything remaining in the garden, I could be found, planting, weeding and harvesting our food.
For me it was fun, tradition and a good way to save money. I learned how to “put food away”, from my mother-in-law and from Mother Earth magazine. The spring began with strawberries turned into strawberry jam in pint jars and covered with a paraffin wax seal. Sliced fresh berries carefully went into freezer bags awaiting their turn to reappear as strawberry shortcake in the middle of winter.
As each fruit and vegetable came “on”, they were first served fresh, then the excess went into jars, the freezer or were dried. I especially enjoyed drying fruits and always had dried apples, apricots, peaches and pears in glass jars sitting on the pantry shelf.
When the kids wanted a sweet treat the dried fruits were a healthy alternative to candy. Dried apples were a special favorite and were reconstituted and turned into pies. Dried apple slices were boiled with ham to become the Pennsylvania Dutch favorite called schnitz (dried apples) and knepp (ham).
Drying fruits can be traced back to the earliest of times. Before the days of refrigeration fruits, vegetables, meat and fish were dried for use in the winter. Drying is not hard to do and can be done in the home oven, a food dehydrator or in the sun.
Here is how to dry the fruits of summer so you can enjoy them year round.
Select only the freshest, unblemished fruits to dry. Apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, figs, and pears work well.
Wash and allow to dry. Slice larger fruits like apples and peaches into uniform size pieces. Leave smaller fruits like cherries and grapes whole. Cut smaller fruits like figs and apricots in half or quarters.
Some fruit including grapes, plums, cherries and figs have hard skins and need to go through a “crack” process before drying. Plunge the fruit into boiling water for 30-60 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon, and then plunge into cold water.
Pre-treat the fruit with absorbic acid, citric acid or lemon juice. Pre-treating prevents darkening of light colored fruits and speeds the drying process for fruits with tough skins. According to the University of Colorado extension service, research shows that pre treating the fruit helps with the destruction of potentially harmful bacteria during drying period.
To pre- treat the fruit mix 2 1/2 Tablespoons of absorbic acid with 1 quart of water. If using lemon juice mix equal amounts of lemon juice with cold water. Citric acid uses 1 teaspoon to 1 quart of water. One quart will treat 10 quarts of fruit. To use soak the fruit in the pre-treat for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel.
Arrange fruit in a single layer on a drying tray. I use to use a piece of new screen before I got a dehydrator. A cookie sheet can also be used. Place the tray in a 140 degree F. oven or follow the dehydrators directions. Depending upon the size of the fruit, the moisture in the fruit and in the air it will take anywhere from 6 hours to 24 hours to dry.
Turn the fruit every three to four hours and watch its progress. The dried fruit should be leathery and pliable. To check remove a couple of pieces of fruit and allow it to cool. Squeeze the fruit in your hands. The fruit should be leathery but without any moisture when done.
Condition the fruit for 4 to 10 days by placing the cooled fruit in a glass jar lightly covered lid. Check the jar every couple of days for any moisture. If moisture shows up on the jar, place the fruit back in the oven or dehydrator and dry a bit longer.
Place the dried conditioned fruit in tightly covered containers and store in a cool dark place or in the refrigerator or freezer. Discard any fruit that smells bad or has any mold.