Drying is a simple method of preserving fruit and vegetables. Dried fruit can be a healthy alternative to sweets.
Drying fruit is an interesting way to store part of a summer or autumn harvest. It makes a change from making jam or pickles with your glut.
These sweet, nutritious preserves can be made at home quite easily, stored and added as snacks to packed lunches for school or work. They can last from a few weeks to a few months. They must be totally dehydrated to ensure that no mould can develop.
Crops with a high water content like apples, plums, grapes or tomatoes should be oven-dried but those with a low water content can just be dried indoors. This air-drying method is slower than using an oven but is particularly suited to herbs, chillies and peas and beans that have been removed from their pods. The room needs to be warm and well-ventilated. It could be a spare room or garage. A kitchen will have too much moisture in the air because of the steam from cooking.
The crops can be laid on a wire rack, separated out and left for a few weeks or if possible, like in the case of chillies, strung onto string and hung up in order to save space. It is important that air can circulate around each individual vegetable. Don’t rub your eyes after handling chillies; and wash you hands well.
Some herbs can be dried more easily than others. Bay leaves and sprigs of sage or marjoram are good candidates to be hung in bunches but soft-leaved herbs such as basil and parsley would be better chopped up and packed into ice cube trays to be frozen. These individual portions can be added to stews or home-made soups through the winter and they retain their taste better than if they had been dried.
Otherwise, try drying herbs in a microwave with the setting on high for two minutes. Employing one of these methods ensures that there will be no waste; all your crops can be stored before the first frosts come to claim them.
To prepare fruit for oven-drying, first wash it thoroughly and dry excess moisture from the skin.
Remove stones from plums and cores from apples. Halve plums and tomatoes, slice apples and strawberries and leave other berries whole. You can at this stage dip your fruit into lemon juice to prevent browning.
Lay the pieces of fruit out onto a wire rack individually leaving air to circulate between them. If the berries are too small to sit on a wire rack, use a slightly oiled baking tray instead.
Put your oven on its lowest setting and put the racks and trays inside. Open the door at intervals to lower the temperature and change the air. The purpose of the exercise is to dry the fruit not cook it.
Regularly check on the fruit, and after several hours, when the fruit feels light and dry to the touch, remove the racks from the oven and leave to cool completely.
Store the fruit in air-tight jars and store in a cool, dark place. It should last for several weeks.