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Monday, August 5, 2013

DIY Food Edition: Dried Fruit

I grew up on homemade dried fruit.  I honestly didn't even know for years that you could buy it!  And as I have purchased some since then, I can say I wasn't missing much.  Store bought dried fruit is typically icky and very often has sugar and preservatives added to it.  You know those de-lish-ous dried mangoes from Costco? That are so yummy they are like dessert?  That's because they ARE dessert!  In one serving size, there is 32 grams of sugar.  That's more than that of a Twinkie, folks.
Now, dried fruit that you make yourself is actually good for you!  Because it's being dried, not cooked, none of the nutrients are degraded, so you're getting the full bang of the good stuff.
I bought a dehydrator a number of years ago.  (This is the one.It has served me well for the past 5 years, and it was what I could afford at the time, so I don't regret buying it, despite the fact that it is dying now...it turns on and off randomly....)  (And now I have an uber-expensive commercial grade dehydrator from Cabela's on my covet list...)  That's what my mom used, so that's what I wanted to use.  It is the more energy efficient method of indoor drying, but you can just use your oven if you're not drying often.
So here we go.  In this case, I am making mangoes, bananas and plums.
Step 1: Prep the fruit.  Obviously, this step kinda depends on what you're using.  Mangoes and bananas, obviously you'll want to remove the skin.  Other fruits like pears, apples, plums, peaches, etc., I personally never bother removing the skin.  My mum didn't either.  Too much extra work, and we don't want to lose that extra fiber, right?  :P
In the case of the mangoes, I picked up this nifty mango slicer, and it works like a charm.
Then I sliced the mango halves and peeled the skin off each slice.
If your bananas are a little far gone, try slicing them right through the skin, and then peeling the skin off the individual slices.  It takes a little longer, but then you don't squish your overly ripe banana while slicing it.
The plums, as mentioned, I don't peel.  Just wash them thoroughly, and then slice into thin (about a quarter inch) slices.  Thinner your slices are, faster they will dry.  And I just prefer them that way.  Up to you.  But overall, remember to keep the slices of each batch uniform or else some pieces may not get dry enough.
When I dry apples (and sometimes with pears too), I drop them into a bowl with some lemon juice and stir it around to coat.  This prevents them from turning an ucky brown during the long drying process.
Step 2: Load them up.
I just stick 'em on my dehydrator trays, making sure none of the pieces are touching.  If you're going the oven route, line your trays/cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat and lay your fruit out in a single layer, again, not touching.  You might even try placing a cookie rack on your tray and putting the fruit on that.  More air circulation and thus faster to dry.
Step 3: Dry 'em!  I flip on my dehydrator.  Ovens: heat it up to around 150 degrees.  You want to dry it, not cook it.  This will take several hours (say 4 to 8...how's like for a vague window!).  Fruit is done if it is chewy.  A great way to test this is to rip a piece in half and take a look.  If any beads of moisture form, it's not done.
I personally over-dry mine by typical standards.  I like just a little crunch.
Step 4:  Let it sit.  Typically 12 hours is the recommendation.
Step 5: Pack it up in storage containers or bags.
And there you are!  A snack you can actually feel good about, healthy and tasty!
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