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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to Dry Fruit Without a Dehydrator

A friend recently recommended a lovely book to me:   Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation.   (More about this book another day.)


It indirectly inspired me to try drying fruit without using my electric dehydrator.  This time of year I keep my Nesco dehydrator busy with as much fruit (preferably free: my favorite kind) as possible.  I had the happy problem of having more (free) apricots than my dehydrator could accommodate, so I decided to try drying two small batches in two ways:

  • inside my hot car parked in the sun
  • outside in the direct sun


For drying with out a dehydrator, the book suggests arranging the fruit on a screen stapled over a wooden frame to allow airflow around the fruit.  
  • Instead, I used some spare dehydrator trays. 
  • I cut my apricots in 1/8ths (because my experience with dehydration is that apricot halves and even quarters take ages to dry).  
  • I spread them out to ensure that they were not touching and air could move freely around them.  

Drying Apricots in My Car

I positioned the tray on an old towel in direct sunlight in my car and left it with doors and windows closed:
Apricots drying in my hot car.  

I re-parked my car a couple of times a day to ensure that the apricots remained in direct sunlight as much as possible.  I was quick getting in and out because let me tell you, that sucker got hot!  

After a mere 30 hours my apricots were finished:

Apricots done dehydrating in my car. 
Pros of this method:
  • These apricots dried almost as quickly as they would have on my electric dehydrator.
  • Their texture was great.
Cons of this method:
  • The apricots had an off flavor.  This is a huge con (obviously).  At first I thought it was just these particular apricots, until I tasted another batch of the same apricots dried with a different method.  I can only describe the off flavor as chemically.  And I can only assume it came because some one I love likes to polish my car interior with a product I'm sure is not considered food safe.  
  • Turning my car into a dehydration chamber reduced its effectiveness as a means of transportation.   I didn't want to drive it without the AC and dehydrate myself, but I didn't want to drive it with the AC and drop the temperature for the drying fruit. So I just didn't drive it.  

Drying Apricots in the Sun:

I positioned this tray of apricots on an old cotton sheet (with a stunning floral pattern) on our patio table:
Apricots Ready to be Dried in the Sun
I folded the sheet over the top of the tray so that the fruit would be protected from dirt and bugs.  

The patio table is on the east side of our house, so it is sunny from dawn until 2:00ish in the afternoon.  The first day, I moved the tray to a sunny spot for the later afternoon and evening and then brought them inside at night (to avoid any moisture overnight).  

After 24 hours, we had made some progress, but not a lot:
Sun-Dried Apricots after 24 Hours
Then I went out of town for three days and left them on the patio table with no one to move them in the afternoon and no one to tuck them into bed.  

I came home, four days after having set them out, to beautifully dried apricots:
Sun-Dried Apricots after 4 Days
A few had some dark discoloration:
Apricot Discolored from Caramelization
These dark spots did not seem to be mold or spoilage of any kind.  I think they are simply spots where the fruit's sugars caramelized.  This happens sometimes during dehydration, particularly with over-ripe fruit.

Here's what the weather was like during these four days of dehydration:

Day 1:  High 92, Low 57
Day 2:  High 99, Low 58
Day 3:  High 93, Low 63
Day 4:  High 99, Low 61

Pros of this method:
  • The finished fruit was delicious!  The texture and flavor were great.
  • This method saves money over using an electric dehydrator.  My frugal-self loves it:  drying free fruit with free solar energy!
Cons of this method:
  • It took 4 days.
  • It's risky:  what if there had been rain?  A sudden shift to cool weather?  Did I just freakishly stumble upon four perfect days, or would this work with a greater range of temperatures?

Conclusions:  

Because of the chemically, off flavor of the apricots dried in my car, I won't be using that method again (bummer).  Because of the uncertainties of drying in the sun, I probably won't be abandoning my Nesco dehydrator anytime soon.  

However, when an abundance of free-fruit lands on my door step (some one invited me to come pick plums tomorrow!), and the weather looks favorable, I will definitely try sun-drying again.  The results this time were great.  Not to mention, as I'm spreading fruit out under a sheet in the sun, I feel like I'm getting in touch with my inner Caroline Ingalls.  

I shared this post at Simple Lives Thursday #109.

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