My mother used to tell me stories of her grandmother drying apricots on her roof in the summer. In the Vegas heat, it was simple to climb up to the roof, lay the freshly picked apricots from next door on a sterilized surface, cover them, and wait for a couple of days. Temperatures can reach 120° here in the summer, and while we bake in the heat, so do the apricots. That’s merely one way to sun-dry fruits and vegetables.
In this article, we will delve into three sun-drying methods, solar sun-drying, oven dehydrating, and electric dehydrating, while using apricots and tomatoes as an example, as they are the most favored dried fruits. Just in time for sunny spring weather, check out these methods for sun-drying your favorite foods:
Method 1: Solar sun-drying
That’s right; this method is old-school and utilizes the power of the sun to dehydrate whatever food you want, but this method is really only a viable option for those living in climates with 100+ degree heat and relatively low humidity (i.e. Las Vegas or Arizona…). There are certain steps you must follow to achieve the perfect solar dried food, so read on!
Pick your fruits with care—don’t choose to dry subpar fruit because you’ll end up with a subpar product. Tomatoes, preferably large Roma tomatoes, should be washed and cut lengthwise into pieces about 1/6 inch thick.
Apricots should also be washed to remove any dirt and lingering pesticides from their skin. Pit the apricots and cut them into equal-sized pieces (in quarters or halves).
Uniformity is key when cutting both apricots and tomatoes and other fruits that are to be dried because then they will dry at a relatively equal rate.
Some recipes do not require treatment of the tomatoes at all prior to dehydrating them in the sun, but you can add red wine vinegar or salt to them. Additionally, vitamin C can be added to the fruit via an ascorbic acid bath/dip made with 2 tbsp of ascorbic acid (~5 grams of crushed vitamin C tablets) and a quart of water. Blanching fruits prior to dehydrating is not recommended but for a few fruits like apples, pears, and apricots.
3. Lay out
Cookie sheets and Silpat mats can be used to dry both apricots and tomatoes. The modus operandi is to uniformly lay out the tomatoes and apricots on the cookie sheet or on the Silpat mat covered cookie sheet (the latter is easier to clean up), and then cover the fruits with a cheese cloth to prevent bugs or children from messing with them. Place the cookie sheet on the dashboard of your car on a hot day (make sure the dashboard is facing the sun), or you can put the cookie sheet in your backyard on a table in direct sun, or you can put it on your roof (be careful it doesn’t fall off).
Tomatoes and apricots take different amounts of time to dry in the sun. Usually, drying time can be anywhere between two and four days, and the fruits should be turned once a day for equal drying. It’s advisable to bring the sheets of fruit indoors overnight so that dew doesn’t form on the fruits.
5. Check for Doneness and Store
You can tell when your apricots or tomatoes are done dehydrating when they are wrinkled and dry but not stiff (like a raisin). They take on a leathery but pliable texture. If there are moisture beads still on the fruit after it has been torn open, then they need more time in the sun. Once they are ready, store them in an airtight container or plastic bag to make sure no moisture gets in. Do not refrigerate them.
Method 2: Oven dehydrating
This method requires an oven, in case you didn’t catch that in the name of it. This method also requires your oven to be on for an extended period of time and for you to be at home to make sure your house doesn’t burn down — just a fair warning.
1. Follow all the steps discussed above until step 3
2. Lay out
For dehydrating food in the oven, it is advisable to lay the prepared apricots or tomato slices out on wire racks that have been placed on top of a cookie sheet. Make sure no two fruits touch one another. Set the oven temperature to the lowest setting or to 145-150° F, and put the sheet into the oven.
Close your oven door and allow the fruits to cook for 10 to 20 hours. Occasionally check on them, rotating them every once in a while. If you want the process to go faster, you can adjust your oven temperature to 200° F, but you’ll need to watch whatever you’re dehydrating very closely.
4. Check for Doneness and Store
Follow the aforementioned directions, once again checking for the right texture and storing in an airtight container.
Method 3: Electric Dehydrating
This method of dehydrating involves the intimidating-to-amateurs commercial dehydrator. You don’t have to watch your fruits dehydrating with this machine like you do with the oven, which is a big plus for some people, but if you don’t already have a dehydrator, don’t bother with this method because the above two methods work just fine. But, if you do have a dehydrator, then here is what you do:
1. Follow all the steps discussed for the solar sun-drying method until step 3.
2. Lay out
For an electric dehydrator, laying out your fruits uniformly is highly recommended. Usually, dehydrators come with dehydrating racks or sheets that you place the fruit or whatever you’re “sun-drying” on, so be wary of that. It is good to read the manufacturer’s instructions before you use a dehydrator and any device in general.
With an electric dehydrator, it is relatively quick to “cook” fruit or vegetables compared to the above two methods. If your dehydrator has a thermostat, set it to about 140° F for tomatoes and apricots and wait anywhere between three and eight hours for them to be done.
4. Check for Doneness and Store
See the solar sun-drying method for storing recommendations.
Whichever method is right for you, it is well worth it to sun-dry your own food — commercial sun-dried foods can have added preservatives, chemicals, and/or oils that are unnecessary. Sun-drying your food is simple, easy, and customizable, so give it a go today!
Image source: Andrew Deacon / Wikimedia Commons