All Dried Up: How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables
Even as a kid I was crafty in the kitchen. So when I learned at a young age that raisins are the result of sun-dried grapes, you know I had to test out that theory in my own open-air laboratory, AKA my grandmother’s backyard.
But after numerous failed attempts and wasting enough grapes to draw the ire of my mum-mum (that’s what I called my grandmother), I gave up on my science experiment and decided that Sun-Maid must be part of a government conspiracy.
It’s not, of course. It seems that the real reason why my experiment didn’t work is because I lived in the wrong climate…and patience is not my virtue. So you don’t have to sit in time out for misusing $5 worth of produce, here are nine simple steps for drying fruits and veggies. (See also: The Produce Worker's Guide to Storing 25 Common Fruits and Veggies)
1. Choose Your Produce
Use only fresh produce; stay away from any fruits and veggies that have signs of rot. Good drying fruits include strawberries, apples, pineapple, bananas, grapes, and figs. Veggies that you can dry include carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, peas, onions, and pumpkin.
2. Decide How You Want to Dry Your Produce
You can go the eco-friendly route and sun dry, but you’ll need at least five straight days of 85°F weather, preferably with direct sunlight and no insects. (My 10-year-old self could have used this information.) If you want to be super fancy, you can use a solar food dehydrator to reduce your carbon footprint. If outside drying isn’t an option, use an electric food dehydrator or a conventional oven — the rest of these tips concern the latter two methods.
3. Preheat Your Oven or Electric Dehydrator to 140°F
While the appliance is heating, wash your produce, and remove any stems, cores, and pits it may contain. If you’re using vegetables, blanch in boiling water for two minutes and remove from the heat.
Prepare your produce for the drying process by cutting it into bite-sized pieces. This makes the dried food easier to eat and helps speed up the drying process.
5. Give Your Produce a Bath
Dunk the cut produce in a solution of one part lemon juice, eight parts water. Remove quickly. The produce doesn’t need to take a bath in the solution; it just needs a coating of the diluted citric acid to prevent oxidation.
6. Lay Out the Produce
If you’re using an oven, line a baking sheet with wax paper and arrange the bite-sized pieces of produce in a single layer, allowing enough space between pieces for each piece to breathe. If you’re using an electric dehydrator, place the fruit on the stackable mesh screens with enough room to breathe.
Place the fruit in the oven or electric dehydrator preheated to 140°F for 4 to 16 hours, depending on what you’re dehydrating. To find out approximate drying times for specific fruits and vegetables, use this handy dehydration chart.
8. Remove and Cool
When you’ve dried the produce for the appropriate amount of time, remove it from the appliance and let it sit for an hour to cool.
Pack the produce in airtight containers or canning jars to keep it fresh for six months to one year.
How to Freeze-Dry
If you don’t want to waste gas or electricity, or if it’s just too darn hot to run the oven all day long, consider freeze-drying your fruit. Most of the same steps apply, with a few exceptions.
1. Prepare the Produce
Wash and cut your fruit and line the mesh trays the same way you would if you were preparing to dehydrate it. Mesh trays are necessary here because you want the cold air to circulate around the entire piece of produce.
2. Put the Trays in the Freezer
Put the mesh trays in the freezer in a single layer; don’t stack them. Leave the trays in the freezer for one week.
After a week, transfer the freeze-dried fruit to airtight containers or storage bags and store in the freezer.
4. Reconstitute for Use
When you’re ready to use the produce, place the it in a bowl, add water, and heat in the microwave until the produce reconstitutes.