Quite a few years ago, we bought a food dryer. Our initial idea was to dry fruits and other foods for camping and hiking. Fresh fruits are tough to take along on a backpacking trip or to store if you are car camping. In no time they are tired looking, and we all know that kids do not eat tired looking food!
Food dryers are the answer. They’re also called Food Dehydrators. We dried peaches, nectarines, apricots, strawberries, figs, and pears on the first round. Later came apples, bananas, Asian pears, yogurt, and fruits stewed down to a jam consistency.
Food dehydrators are not terribly expensive and most Targets and similar stores have them. Here’s what to do.
- Wash the fruit carefully and dry it with a clean kitchen towel.
- Slice the fruit into 1/8 inch thicknesses, discarding the seeds and core parts.
- Lay the relatively thin slices on the trays, close together but not touching.
- Turn on the dryer!
- Dry fruit to the point of dehydration but not crispy dry.
- Bag the slices in snack bags and put all the snack bags into the freezer (to preserve the color and taste).
They became a healthy snack for little ones to eat during the day. Some of the fruits never made it to the next camping trip because our kids loved taking them to school for snacks and snacking on them at night.
This first effort was so successful that we got impatient to do more. The kids quickly wanted to help in the process. Mom or Dad sliced fruit and kids arranged them on the trays. We set up a system and everyone had fun together in the kitchen.
We learned a few important things right away:
- Buy pesticide-free or organic fruit. We were concerned about pesticide exposure, which does bad things to little growing bodies. We stuck to either “pesticide-free” fruit or fruit labeled “organic.” In California, at least, fruit is labeled with a 4-digit number on a sticker. If the first number is 9, the fruit is organic. If it’s 4 (or any other number), it’s not. Your market may also indicate “pesticide-free” fruits, which are fine to use.
- Spray the trays so the dried fruit comes off easily. Very quickly we learned that if we sprayed the trays lightly with olive oil, the fruit came off much more easily. “Pam” now has an olive oil spray or you can buy a pump compressor for spraying your own oils.
- Don’t dry the fruit to a crispy dry state. The fruit seemed to taste better if it still had a small amount of moisture in it. Dry it to the bendy state but not beyond to a crisp. All that means is: don’t dry it for so long.
- Check the fruit every 5 hours or so to avoid over drying. It’s easy to lift the lid to check the dryness. If we were concerned about leaving it overnight (which is common), we could turn the heat down.
- Dip fruit that oxidizes into a dish of ascorbic acid before drying. Fruits like apples and bananas were lovely dried but turn brown before the process is complete, just as it would sitting on the kitchen table. See below for instructions.
- Store the dried fruit in the freezer and keep going. When we were able to buy a large quantity of fresh fruit, we didn’t want to risk spoilage if we dried a lot. The freezer stores them perfectly without making them hard.
- Use the solid (opaque) tray liners to dry yogurt, fruit compotes, etc. Food dryers often come with an opaque tray liner meant for drying somewhat more liquid foods. Yogurt and applesauce work great in 1/4 inch layers. Stew other fruits down to a thick jam stage and spread them over the solid tray. Or whirl fruit in a blender to get it to an applesauce thickness. Figs are great this way! Then slice the dried fruit and roll into “fruit rolls”.
The kids loved it all! We found ourselves unsatisfied with the amount we could do in one sitting. The food dryer only had 5 or 6 shelves, so we knew we needed more space. At a yard sale we found another food dehydrator so we were in business to dry foods on a larger scale in the summer when so many wonderful fruits are in season.
Drying Fruits That Oxidize
To prevent foods from oxidizing, we bought the crystalline form of ascorbic acid. It’s commonly available in health food stores.
- Mix a teaspoon of ascorbid acid in 2 cups of water and stir until dissolved.
- Dip the slices quickly in and out of the water and let them drip off a bit.
- Lay them on the dehydrator tray. They will not turn brown but will give you a small additional dose of Vitamin C when you eat the fruit.
Drying fresh foods is another way to engage kids in the kitchen. There’s a science lesson in how much water is contained in a piece of fruit, so don’t miss your chance to explain that.
Fruits and Pesticides—another warning
Do be careful about pesticide exposure. Some fruits will be exposed to several different pesticides during the growing season. Despite washing, they come to the grocery store with pesticide residues intact. No amount of washing in the kitchen will remove every molecule of pesticide.
Please don’t expose your kids to these nasty chemicals because some are endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system is our hormones! Those are chemical molecules, secreted directly into the bloodstream, that our bodies use to send messages to other parts of our bodies. Endocrine disruptors alter the way our hormones work or the messages they carry. They can affect homeostasis, reproduction, development, and/or behavior. We just can’t risk it with our precious kids.
You have probably all heard about the fish and amphibian populations in streams that are affected by pesticide runoff into steams. Some populations are no longer producing males, only females. Avoid dealing with the heartbreaking consequences to our children by not feeding pesticide residues to them in the first place!
For more on kids and fruits, see our page on Fruits, Are they Really Good for Us?
Branch Out with Other Foods
You can dry many more foods like meats with BBQ sauce, but check out recipes for the slow drying of cooked meats to be very careful about avoiding the accumulation of bacteria.