General guidelines: As is true for freezing and canning, pre-treating apples before drying them will result in a final product with better color retention. Apples are best treated by dipping briefly in a pre-treatment solution. Choose any tart, firm-textured apple. Wash, peel and core apples. Cut into 1/4-1/2 inch slices or rings. Apple slices can be sprinkled with cinnamon or powders such as flavored gelatin or Kool Aid. Dry at 130º to 135º F until pliable. Use as a snack or in baked goods, such as pies, cobblers, or crisps.
Apricots are one of the fruits best suited to drying. For best results, select firm, ripe apricots with deep yellow to orange color.
To prepare the fruit wash apricots, cut in half and remove pits. Pretreat, if desired. Pre-treating fruits before drying produces a higher quality product. The most effective pretreatment for apricots is sulfuring. If you choose not to sulfur, another good alternative is syrup blanching. Apricots may also be pretreated by dipping the apricots in a solution made from crystalline ascorbic acid, vitamin C tablets, sulfite compounds, or fruit juice. Pre-treatment methods are described below. Following pretreatment, the apricots should be arranged on the drying trays in a single layer. Pieces of similar size should be placed on the same tray because they will dry at a similar rate.
If berries are seedy, when dried they tend to be mostly crunch and very little flesh. Strawberries have small seeds and dry acceptably. The seeds can be removed from blackberries, raspberries, and similar berries, and the puree used in leathers.
Choose large, firm blueberries with deep-blue color. Wash and remove stems. Dip in boiling water 30 seconds to “check” skins. Blueberries dried without boiling first have a puffy appearance. Dry at 130° to 135°F until leathery. Use like raisins in baked goods.
Choose ripe, juicy, red berries. Gently wash. Remove caps. Cut into 1/2-inch slices. Dry at 130° to 135°F until pliable to almost crisp. Use in puddings, yogurt, desserts or as a snack. Note: Strawberries do not rehydrate well.
Fruit leather can be made by pureeing fruit, either fresh or a drained, canned product. Wash fresh fruit. Make a puree from the desired fruit. A blender or food processor can be used on fresh or precooked fruit. If a blender is to be used for fresh fruit, puree the fruit first and then bring the puree to a boil while stirring continuously. If a food mill or potato masher is to be used, it is best to cook fresh fruit with a small amount of water in a covered pan until tender first, then puree the fruit. The heat process will inactivate enzymes that can cause the leather to discolor. After heating, add ½ teaspoon ascorbic acid crystals or 3 tablespoons lemon juice per 2 cups of fruit to protect the color and help destroy bacteria during drying.
Canned fruit should be well drained. It is not necessary to heat canned fruit. The pureed product can be lightly sweetened if desired. Heavily sweetened fruits will remain sticky and will not dry well. Spread the puree in a thin layer on a plastic film. The plastic film can be on a cookie sheet, a pizza pan, an oven-safe dinner plate or on some dehydrator trays. Make sure that the plastic sheet edges do not fold over and cover any of the puree. The puree should be about 1/4 inch deep.
Dry the leather at 140° F in a dehydrator or in an oven at its lowest temperature setting, and with the door slightly open to allow air circulation. The oven door can be held open with a jar ring. The leather is adequately dried when you can peel it from the plastic. The dried product should have a bright translucent appearance, chewy texture, and a good fruit flavor. Leathers can be stored by rolling them up while they are still on the film and placing them in a glass jar with a tight lid or plastic bag. They retain their color and flavor for several months at room temperature, but storage life can be extended by refrigeration or freezing.
Wash and pit pie cherries. Heat 2 cups of cherries and 1/2 cup of sugar until the liquid boils for 1 minute. (Cherry-sugar mixture will form own juice.) With a slotted spoon, transfer cherries to a drying rack. Dry at 140-150/F until the moisture is decreased so that you have 80% solids or until the cherries are firm and rubbery to the touch. You will have best results if you base the drying on the final solids content of 80% and then either freeze the cherries or vacuum package to avoid mold growth.
To calculate desired final cherry weight for 80% solids:
1. Weigh a container for fresh and dried cherries on a scale. Note weight.
2. Fresh cherries. Add fresh cherries to container. Weigh. Subtract container weight.
3. Calculate desired final weight. (Fresh cherry weight) times (.175) = desired weight of dried cherries.
4. Add calculated desired final weight (#3 above) and weight of container (#1). When dried cherries reach this point, they are ready.
To vacuum pack the dried cherries, place in canning jars, attach lids loosely and place in a 325/ oven for 15 minutes. At the end of the 15 minutes, remove jars and tighten lids. Vacuum packaged cherries will keep longer.
Making Fruit Leathers
Select ripe or slightly overripe fruit. Wash, pit, and drain well. Puree cherries in blender. Sweetener may be added in the form of corn syrup, honey, or sugar. Corn syrup or honey is best for long storage because it doesn’t crystallize. Sugar is good for immediate use or short storage. Sweeten to taste. Sweet cherries do not require as much added sweetening as tart varieties. Bring cherry puree to a boil. Line a plate or cookie sheet with edges with plastic wrap. Smooth out the wrinkles. Pour the pureed fruit onto the cookie sheet in a 1/4 inch thick layer. Spread evenly.
To dry in an oven- Place the tray on the center rack in an oven at lowest setting and prop oven door slightly open. Approximate drying time may be up to 18 hours.
To dry in a dehydrator- Use specially designed dehydrator trays or plastic trays. Line with plastic wrap. Pour pureed fruit on the trays in a 1/8 inch thick layer. Spread evenly. Approximate drying time is 6-8 hours.
Leather that is dry can be easily pulled from the plastic wrap. Fruit leather can be left on plastic or pulled from plastic wrap while still warm. Cool and re-wrap in plastic if needed.
Ripe chile pods can be dried to use later as a seasoning. To make a ristra, tie stems of chile pods onto a string and hang in a dry, well-ventilated location. Chiles can also be dried in a dehydrator. Wash pods, slice into desired size pieces and place on dehydrator shelves. Dry until brittle. Transfer to plastic bags or glass jars for storage at room temperature. Dried chile can be powdered in a blender, crumbed to smaller pieces or left intact.
Corn can be preserved by drying, however this is the least commonly used method today. Select tender, mature sweet corn. Husk and trim.
Blanch: fill a large pot two-thirds full of water, cover and bring to a boil. Place several ears in a wire basket and submerge into the water. Blanch for 4-5 minutes. Or you may steam blanch for 5-6 minutes. To steam blanch use a deep pot with a close-fitting lid and a wire basket that allows the steam to circulate freely around the ears of corn. Add water to the pot and boil. Make sure the water doesn’t come in contact with the ears. Cut kernels off cob using a corn cutter for efficiency. Immediate dry in a dehydrator at for 1-2 hours. Vegetables should be crisp/crunchy when they are completely dried. When dried adequately, corn will shatter if hit with a blunt object. Store corn in a cool, dry place. Pack in containers that prevent moisture and insects from getting into the corn. Glass jars, metals cans or boxes with tightly fitted lids or freezer cartons make good containers for storing dried foods. Heavy-duty plastic bags are acceptable but are not pest proof. A good rule is to pack foods in amounts that will be used in a recipe. Every time a package is re-opened the food is exposed to air and moisture and its quality decreases.
Rehydrating Dried Corn
Two methods are recommended. The dry corn can go directly into boiling water or broth, or the corn can be soaked in cold water 1 to 2 hours prior to use. If soaked for a longer period of time, it should be refrigerated. The boiling method speeds up the soaking time.
Figs are excellent for drying. Select ripe fruit. Immature fruit may sour before drying. If needed, wipe fruit with cloth. Leave small fruit whole, otherwise cut in half.
Dip in boiling water 30 seconds to check skins. Plunge into ice water to stop further cooking. Drain on paper towels.
If drying in dehydrator, no pretreatment is needed. Sun drying needs 1 hour sulfur treatment to discourage insects.
Light colored figs should be steam blanched for 20 minutes for optimum color.
Drying time is 6-20 hours in dehydrator, 3-5 days in sun and 9-12 hours in the oven. Over exposure to sun or heat will harden skin.
The quality of dried grapes (raisins) is excellent.
For best results, use seedless grapes. If seeded varieties are used, remove seeds as described above before drying.
Pretreating fruit with an acidic solution prior to drying is highly recommended to enhance quality and safety.
For best results, dry grapes in a dehydrator or oven.
To dry grapes: Select fully ripe sweet grapes, which are firmly attached to the stems. They should have a tender skin, be firm, with full color and flavor. Sort, remove stems and wash. Discard any imperfect grapes. About 4 1/2 pounds of grapes will yield one pound of raisins. Steam or place grapes in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute until the skins crack. This will break the skins to enable them to dry. To prepare a pretreatment antimicrobial solution, stir 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of citric acid into 1 quart (~1 liter) of cold water, OR mix equal parts of lemon juice and cold water (i.e., 1 cup lemon juice and 1 cup water). Put the boiled grapes in the acidic solution for 10 minutes, drain, then place grapes on a dehydrator tray. Dry at a medium temperature for 24-48 hours or until there is no moisture in the middle of the grape. The raisins may be stored in plastic bags or glass canning jars. Storing under vacuum in glass jars will result in a longer shelf life.
To vacuum package the raisins, place dried raisins in canning jars. Place lids and rims loosely on jars. Heat jars in oven at 325 °F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and tighten lids.
Pears should be fully ripe for drying, but not soft or mushy. Typically the best varieties for drying are Bartlett or other summer varieties—but others may be used. Peel and core the pears and slice into desired thickness—remember the thicker the slice, the longer the drying time.
Place sliced pears in a pretreatment solution of 1 teaspoon ascorbic acid per quart of water. Other pretreatments, such as sulfuring, may be used, but are more labor intensive.
Hold only a few minutes in the solution as longer times will soften the pears.
Place on drying tray and dry 2-3 hours at 160ºF, then 130ºF until dry.
Dried pears may be used dry as a snack, or slightly rehydrated in breads, cobblers, cooking, fritters, etc. They are also good chopped into hot oatmeal.
Blanch pole or bush beans as described above. Drain the beans and arrange them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray. Place green beans in the freezer for 30-40 minutes. Place dryer trays into the dehydrator and dry at 140°-145°F for 8-10 hours or until green beans are crisp and brittle. To store dried foods, place the dried food in plastic bags, press out air, seal or close, and then place in glass jars and tightly seal.
Preparation: Steam tomatoes for 3 minutes or dip tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute to loosen skins. Chill in cold water; slip skins off. Cut into sections about 1/2 inch wide or slices. Cut small pear or plum tomatoes in half.
Drying: Dry tomatoes in food dehydrator 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours.
Tomato Vegetable Leather
1 medium onion, chopped 1 green pepper, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 3 cups tomatoes peeled and wedged
Salt, pepper, spices to taste.
Note: proportions can be adjusted to personal taste. Celery could also be used.
Blend vegetables in food processor or blender until fine. Add a few tomato wedges and blend. Continue to add tomatoes and blend. Add other spices to taste. Spread puree on plastic wrap on dehydrator trays or cookie sheets. Dry in food dehydrator for 6 to 10 hours or in oven set at 150 to 160 degrees for 6 to 10 hours. Leather should be dry enough so that is peels easily from the plastic wrap.
Blanch squash slices as outlined above, except add 1 teaspoon/gallon citric acid to the blanching water. This will help reduce darkening during the drying process. Drain slices and arrange them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray. Place dryer trays into the dehydrator and dry at 140-145 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 hours or until slices are crisp and brittle. To store, place the dried food in plastic bags, press out air, seal or close, and then place in glass jars which are tightly sealed. Ten pounds of fresh squash will dry to approximately ¾ pound. Dried squash can be used in soups or stews. Process dried slices in a food chopper and use in breads or baked goods.
Remove treated and marinated meat slices from the refrigerator. Place strips flat, without touching each other, on clean dehydrator trays, oven (wire) racks or other drying trays. Place trays in pre-heated dehydrator and dry at 145ºF for 10 to 14 hours, or until slices are adequately dry. Oven drying can work if the oven can achieve a drying temperature close to 145ºF.
Test for dryness. Properly dried jerky is chewy and leathery. It will be as brittle as a green stick, but won’t snap like a dry stick. To test for dryness, remove a strip of jerky from the oven or dehydrator. Let cool slightly, then bend the jerky; it should crack, but not break when bent.
Remove the strips from the drying racks to a clean surface. Pat off any beads of oil with absorbent paper toweling and let cool.
Place cooled jerky strips in an airtight plastic food bag or jar with a tight fitting lid. Pack jerky with the least possible amount of air trapped in the container. Too much air causes off-flavors and rancidity to develop. Label and date packages. Store containers of jerky in a cool, dry, dark place or the refrigerator or freezer.
Choose young, slender zucchini. Wash. Cut into 1/4 inch slices or 1/3 inch slices for chips. Dry at 125ºF until brittle. Dried zucchini should be stored in a moisture-proof container in a dark, dry place. It will keep for a year. Possible storage containers to use include jars, tin cans with tight-fitting lids and plastic containers. Containers should be filled as full as possible without crushing.
Use in soups and casseroles. Sprinkle zucchini chips with seasoned salt and serve with dips.