The longer I continue to grow, cook and preserve food, the more I still feel like a virgin homesteader. I have learned so much, but there is so much more to learn. It’s good to remind myself of the skills that I have managed to incorporate into my daily, weekly or seasonal routines. An important fall activity for me, is to dry my figs.
Anything unfamiliar can be intimidating, but in the case of drying fruit, it’s almost a no-brainer. Once, I bought a dehydrator at a garage sale and then left it sitting outside in the rain and I got rid of it. Then I got another one at the thrift store, and kept it in my kitchen. I still didn’t use it, but I insisted on bringing it when we packed up and left Vallejo. It fit into our general plan to be as self-sufficient as possible in Greenville.
Now I know that you don’t even need a dehydrator to dry fruit. You can use your oven. You don’t even need an oven, if you have a clean, sunny spot. We have three fig trees that have given us an abundance of figs every year since we moved here. Lots of recipes call for dried figs, and I finally found out just how easy they are to dry. I’ve even moved on to making fig rolls, only slightly more complicated.
I prefer the dehydrator for simple dried fruit, because it is compact and I can keep it out of my way. It doesn’t even have to be in the kitchen. Since drying whole or sliced fruit is a slow process, it can get in the way of other things I might want to do in my oven. In the case of figs, I simply cut them in half and arrange them on the trays of the dehydrator so that they are close but not touching, plug it in and let them dry. Apples you can core and then slice in the food processor.
The process takes about twenty four hours, sometimes longer. During that time I rearrange the trays three or four times so that they dry at about the same pace from top to bottom. When they feel a little rubbery they are dry. If you have a clean sunny spot where you can leave your fruit to dry on cookie sheets it will take a little longer, but your fruit will dry. You can cover it when the sun is not shining on it. When the fruit is dry I stick it in the freezer for a day or two to make sure that if any little tiny bugs survived all that, they will freeze to death. Then the fruit is done, and you can store it in a cool dry place, in a sealed container. That’s easy.
The dehydrator comes with instructions for different types of foods, and you do have to pay attention. Apricots, for instance, require sulfides, which I don’t even want to use. Juicier fruits require extra attention and preparation. You have to dip some fruits in orange juice and it gets messy and sticky. I prefer to do just the easy stuff. So with the juicier fruits, I make fruit rollups in my oven.
To make fig rollups, I put the figs in the food processor and blend them until they are smooth. Sometimes I throw in a handful or two of strawberries, since I am still picking a few of those too. I’ve also been known to blend in bananas that might otherwise go bad. I put parchment paper on cookie sheets and poor the fruit purée onto the parchment paper, spreading it as evenly as possible about a quarter inch thick. The cookie sheets go in the oven at the lowest possible temperature, with the door to the oven cracked, (to let the moisture out.) I rotate the trays every half hour or so for a couple hours. When they are almost dry I take them out, flip the paper upside down and remove it. Then I put the trays back in the oven to let the other side of the fruit, now a solid sheet, dry out for another hour or so. You can interrupt this process with no harm done, so don’t go out and leave your oven on. It is a faster process than the dehydrator, so unless you want the fruit crispy (some people prefer it that way) you have to pay attention after the first couple of hours.
When the fruit is rubbery feeling, I take it out and let it cool off. Then I roll them up and slice each roll into about ten or twelve individual rolls. My kids put them in their lunches, and my husband takes them on fishing trips. There’s no sugar, no food coloring, no preservatives added! But you could add sugar if you want to; it wouldn’t change the process.
That’s it! So don’t procrastinate, like I did, because you think it is complicated. Take that fresh bunch of bananas about to go bad, or that bushel of apples you saw at the farmer’s market, and turn them into a delicious, cheap and chemical free treat. You can feel good about giving it to your family and friends, and you can enjoy it any time of year.