Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preserving The Bounty - Sun Drying

Dear Folks,

In the past we have canned our fruit. See also a note near the bottom on "pie kits."

And when I dry my herbs, I use the refrigerator (the modern refrigerators mimic the commercial freeze-dry process by constantly removing moisture from the air, thus drying the herbs in a process which keeps both more color and essential oils).

Our fruit production was way down this year due to the demise of trees and a more aggressive pruning of the remaining fruit trees.  So I decided to sundry some of the fruit and while I was at it - I dried some herbs in the sun also.

See my post from 2009 on sun drying tomatoes and letting the plants sprawl for maximum production in the desert garden.

We should take advantage of the free energy our Desert sun affords us (one of these days I'm going to get around to making a solar cooker).

Keep some things in mind when sun drying foods:

Any weather other than hot and sunny

With fruits like apricots you need to dunk them in acidulated water (light lemon water) to keep them from browning too much.  Commercial dried fruit is usually sulfured and the lemon water works in the same way to keep them from browning too much.

You can see the fresh fruit just put in the trays, and the finished fruit along side of some dried conehead thyme and Syrian Oregano.  You will note that the fruit shrinks about half, and that I left the herbs whole (keeps more essential oils intact until ready to use).

The Process.  After rinsing off, and removing any damaged parts of the fruit, I cut the apricots in half, pitted them and dunked them in the lemon water (1 squeezed lemon to 1 quart of water).  You don't have to leave the fruit in very long.  I let them air dry cut side down so there was no moisture on the bottoms (skin side) of the fruit, then nested them into trays, cut side up.  It took 3 whole sun days to dry them to almost leather consistency - there was still a bit of give in the center of them.  I am storing them in the refrigerator as a precaution, but I'm very pleased with the way they turned out.

You will note that I used a pryex (Glass) tray and a metal tray lined with plastic wrap.  I would recommend that you try to use only glass.  I did not want the fruit coming in contact with the metal but the plastic draped over the edges of some of the outer fruit and spoiled them, before I noticed what was happening.

I used picnic bug tents to keep the bugs off the fruit while drying.  Since we did not have any humid or rainy days while this drying was going on, I left the trays out over night.  If you have overcast, rainy, or humid days, you should plan on bringing the trays in overnight and put them out again in the sun.  The process will take anywhere from 2-5 days depending on temperatures and humidity in the air.

Herbs will dry in 1-2 days depending on temperatures.  You will note I used paper towels to keep the bugs and debris off them while drying.  I simply rinsed them well and set them out between a layer of paper towels.

Once you get into sun drying your bounty, you may want to devise a hanging screen compartmentalized set up.  If you have ever seen shoe and sweater hanger storage arrangements for closets that is what some folks like to use.  Use weed cloth or screen material to build them.  Be aware that if fruits leak while drying cleaning the screening material may take a bit of elbow grease.  That is why I chose glass baking dishes.  Perforated grilling or broiling pans will work also, if you don't mind the metal to fruit contact.

The first batch of apricots I put out to dry several weeks ago made me think of the old adage "if you want to be a better house keeper get a cat" - if you forget anything about securing the food, the critters will find them!

I placed the dishes on the table and forgot to move the bench away from it and the squirrel promptly helped herself to the drying fruit!

Hope this gives you some idea of taking advantage of the sun for drying the bounty of your garden.

This morning I put out some of our summer apple slices. Since these are the crisp green kind and Deane likes his apples sweet I sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar after dunking them in the acidulated water.  Should taste wonderful!

One other 'preserving' technique I started using last year was making 'pie kits' mixing the cut up fruit with the suggested (from your favorite recipe) proportions of sugar, spices and a some flour, toss gently put in a zip lock bag, label and freeze.  If you have more freezer space than we do (why I use the ziplock, even though I prefer glass), use quart size canning jars to freeze.

When I made the pie kits and used them the first time, I discovered the thawed fruit produced too much juice to make a decent pie -- it tasted great just wound up looking like pie-soup!  So the next time I thawed the pie kit I drained the juice and boiled it down about a third and glazed the fruit with it before popping it into the oven - worked great.

Make the most of your bounty, share, use, and preserve!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

My books including recipes using fresh and dried ingredients for real flavor and gardening help for the new-to-the desert gardener.  Check out the publisher site


Murrayel said...

A friend just introduced me to your website a few minutes ago, and I am enchanted. A comment about your "Pie Kits" - I raised my kids in my own organic peach orchard near Phoenix, Oregon with a huge organic garden also. I froze pie middles when the fruit was in its prime. I mixed together the fruit, the spices, the turbinado sugar or honey and tapioca perls. I lined a pie pan with foil and put the filling in. Folded the foil over and put it in the freezer. After the pie middle was frozen I removed the pie and pan from the freezer, removed the middle from the pan and wrapped the middle in freezer wrap and put it back in the freezer. I did the same with other pies, including huckleberry. In the winter I would make a pie crust, put the unwrapped pie filling on it, add the top crust and the pies all turned out great.
I am glad I found you.

Catherine, The Herb Lady said...

Hi Murrayel, What a great option to the the ziplock treatment I do! Thank you for the tip, I'm sure the readers will like that way of making the pie kits too! And glad you like the blog. Happy gardening and cooking! Catherine