Sun-drying fruit is a healthy survival technique employed by humankind since the beginning of time. As a culinary art, this method of preserving food has yet to be beaten.
These days we no longer have to forage for seasonal fruits but, unless growing our own, it still makes sense to purchase fruit in season when prices are low and to sun-dry to cover for when prices are astronomically high.
Bursting with nutrients and light to carry around, sun-dried fruits are higher in sugar than their fresh counterparts and this is just one of the reasons they are recognised as being amongst the best possible foods with which to overcome mental and/or physical exhaustion, stress and for boosting stamina.
Apples, for instance, are one of the easiest fruits to dry and can be dried in the sun, the oven or in a purpose-designed dehydrator which, if you invest in one, will rapidly pay you back.
Select crisp, undamaged, fresh apples and wash, peel and core them. Slice thinly, immediately submersing the slices in a bowl containing one litre of water in which one dessert spoon of salt and the juice of a large lemon has been mixed.
This mixture prevents the apples from browning during the drying process. Leave the apple slices in the mixture for two to three minutes, drain and pat dry in a tea-towel.
Next: spread the apple slices out on stainless steel or wooden trays/boards (these should be scalded with boiling water prior to use) — do not use aluminum or plastic trays since these can leach toxins into the fruit. Lay the trays on an outdoor table, or some other easy-to-clean surface, in direct sun and cover with fine muslin cloth (mulmul) to prevent flies and other insects landing on the fruit.
The fruit shrinks as it dries. Turn the fruit over once or twice a day during the drying process, bringing the trays inside the house each evening and putting them back outside each morning.
Drying time varies depending on the heat of the sun but, in good drying weather with very little or no humidity, apple slices can be dry and ready to pack in air tight containers in two to three days.
The slices are ready once they feel dry but are still slightly springy when bent: if they are left out too long, the result is overly crisp.
The same process is used to sun-dry pears.
Peaches are stoned, sliced and then spread out to dry.
Apricots and plums are cut in half, stoned and dried without further slicing and may take four to five days, turning regularly, before they are dry enough to store.
Oranges are peeled, broken into segments with as much of the white pith removed as possible, spread out on drying trays and average five to eight days to dry.
Figs are dried whole or cut in half: drying time varies accordingly.
If the weather is not on your side or changes its mind when fruit drying is underway, you can finish drying the fruit in an oven on the lowest possible setting. The time this takes varies tremendously from gas to electric oven so experimentation is the name of the game.
Purpose-designed dehydrators come complete with brand-specific instruction manuals.
Raisins and sultanas are possibly the most popular dried fruits — aside from dates of course — and these are incredibly easy to make at home too.
All that is needed are good quality grapes, red or black grapes for raisins and green or white ones for sultanas. Wash them thoroughly, drain and carefully separate each grape from its stalk without damaging or splitting it.
Spread the grapes on drying trays with raised edges so that — when rolling them around to prevent sticking and to aid equal drying on all sides — the grapes do not roll off!
Place the drying trays in direct sunshine, roll the grapes around a couple of times each day and do not lose hope if nothing much happens for the first two to three days as whole grapes take longer to dry then halved or sliced fruit.
On the fourth or fifth day you will suddenly notice that drying has finally begun. Total drying time varies depending on the size and juice content of each grape and they can take as long as eight days before they are ready for packing away.
Sun-drying is hard work but well worth the effort and the results are delicious.
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 29th, 2020