Now that I’ve snagged you with such a tantalizing title, I can own up to the fact that this post is about dried fruit. (And right on queue, images of your grandparents and prunes dance across your frontal cortex.) But dried fruit can be so much more, especially if you’re able to make it at home. By making it yourself, you neatly side-step the often insane cost, the large amount of chemical preservatives and the extra sugar. Dried fruit makes an excellent snack when you’re traveling; it’s light, keeps well, and doesn’t leak. The only downside is that you run the very real risk of eating the equivalent of 4 grapefruits in one sitting. Just keep that in mind and you should be fine.
So where does this new-found love of dried fruit come from? I was the happy recipient of an old school dehydrator this past Christmas (Thanks Mom & Dad!), so I’ve been busying myself by experimenting on anything I could get my little paws on. This post is the result of that experimentation.
If you’re saying to yourself: “Well darn, I don’t have a dehydrator… All is lost.” Not true, my foodie friend – you don’t necessarily need a dehydrator, just a willingness to leave your oven on for really long periods of time. But more on that in a minute.
I could (and often do) ramble on about all the stuff I’ve dried so far, but I’ve decided to concentrate on citrus for this post. Yup, citrus. I know it’s not something one would ordinarily dry (though I just did a quick search and apparently all sorts of people have dried grapefruit – the important thing is that I had no idea so let’s preserve our belief that this is a delightful and completely original surprise). The great thing about citrus is that when it’s dried, it takes on the texture of a gummy bear, and the flavour is unlike anything I’ve tried – it’s floral and sweet and utterly addictive. This is thanks to the high moisture content in those cute little sacks of juice, otherwise known as juiceicles (I’m going to patent that term someday).
I’ve tried two ways to dehydrate your citrus, and I suspect there’s a third. I’ll say right off the bat that grapefruit probably does better in the dehydrator than the oven (at least based on my experience), though you might be all right if you line your baking sheet with parchment paper (which I forgot to do when I tried it). Then, you can scrape up the gummy remnants and not run the risk of having half of it stuck all over the sheet. This approach works really well with clementines, but their envelopes are thinner and crisp up really nicely, providing a nice counter-point to the squishy, gummy interior.
Let’s do this: Peel and decorticate a whole pile of grapefruits (8 medium-sized grapefruits gave me a medium-sized tupperware full of gummies). This involves rolling each one on the counter to loosen the skin, then peeling the skin and as much as the pith off as possible (for a real breakdown on how to segment a grapefruit, check this blog out). Aside from using your fingers to pry the segments out, you can also lay each segment on its side, then slice down the thinner edge with a knife (where the seeds usually hang out). Then, you can open the pithy envelope and peel out the juicy segment like plucking pages from a book (which I would never do, I love books). The third way (as hinted at above) involves slicing the grapefruit across all segments to make large flat discs (with or without the peel); I haven’t tried this approach yet. Have you?
Now, you can either lay them all out in a single layer on your dehydrator trays and set the temperature for 135 degrees F and wait for about 24 hours (I check them after 12 then again around the 20-hour mark to see how they’re doing – it all depends on how thick the segments are). OR, you can try popping them into a preheated 170 degree F oven (the lowest mine goes; the closer to 135 the better, and if you have convection, even better) for about 5-7 hours. Again, it depends on the thickness of your segments. Check every hour after about 4 to make sure they’re not getting too dried out. The key is to dry the edges so that they’re a little crunchy, but to leave the middles firm and chewy (and not over-dried). The drying time will decrease the thinner your slices/segments. Once they’re the consistency you want, let them sit out to cool before putting them in a glass jar or tupperware.
Clementines are even easier: just peel, remove as much pith as possible, and throw them onto a tray. They take about 4 hours at 170 degrees F, or 6-7 hours at 135 degrees F.
As an aside, here’s what I’ve dried so far:
- sliced mushrooms (ideal for adding depth of flavour to rice/grain or broth)
- halved cherry tomatoes (ideal for adding oomph to tomato sauce or any pasta dish, or for more savoury snacking)
- sliced pineapple (so delicious)
- whole black grapes (I thought about halving them, and maybe I should have; they took 36 hours in the dehydrator but are now halfway between a raisin and a grape = utterly luscious)
- sliced pears (subtly delicious with an excellent blend of crunch and squish; they took about 2.5 hours)
- clementine segments (in pithy envelopes)
- grapefruit segments (without pithy envelopes)
The next thing on my agenda: my very own “sun-dried” herbed tomatoes, and a gargantuan amount of cherries, blueberries and strawberries (once they come back in season). I don’t think my life was complete until I tried dried cherries/blueberries/strawberries. Just you wait.