Dried fruits of summer make delicious winter desserts

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

When I received a leaflet in the mail describing a fruit dryer consisting of over dryer, racks, and drying crystals, I was reminded of the Neanderthals, who discovered fruits that had dried in the sun. Later, men realized that they could dry fruits and vegetables during the seasons of plenty and undry them during the lean seasons.

In New England this job was made more interesting when disguised as an apple- paring or corn-husking party. The boys took the green corn for husking and the girls divided the apples for paring. As they cored and quartered them, they tossed the pieces into buckets of cold water. When finished, the pieces would be strung with a darning needle into long ropes of fruit. These, and sometimes rings of pumpkin, would be hung near the kitchen stove, or in the sun to dry.

Once dry, they were put in bags and stored in the attic to be used as needed. They were either eaten as a snack or made into cakes and pies. Pumpkin was good for either pie or soup. The dried fruit pies were put outdoors, in the ice house, or in some other storage area where the temperature would be sure to remain below freezing.

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By 1845 fruits were being dried mechanically. Pretreatment by sulfur, chemical dipping, and steam blanching replaced the old sacks of dry, hard, discolored fruit. However, if you are concerned about chemical treatment, you might prefer to dry your fruits in the sun, like Grace Dow of Saco, Maine, who enjoyed Dried Apple Pie when she was a youngster and decided to try drying some fruit herself.

Fortunately, she knew a capable and imaginative carpenter who designed for her a cabinet about 18 inches square and 22 inches high, covered with fine aluminum wire, with five removable shelves. The door fits snugly so no insects can enter. Miss Dow says she usually sets it on an old wheelbarrow in the sun and in addition to apples, is drying pears, peaches, and prune plums.

To dry apples, she peels, cores, and slices them, then places the slices on cheesecloth on the screens.

Pears are washed, peeled, and cut in half. She steams them for 20 minutes and places them upside down on the cheesecloth.

Peaches are immersed in hot water so the skins slip off easily, then quartered so they will dry quicker. After steaming them 5 to 10 minutes she places them on cheesecloth, using paper towels beneath the cheesecloth because the fruit is so juicy.

Plums are dried without peeling.

All fruit is dried until it is "elastic," with no moisture left. When thoroughly dry, it is packed in airtight plastic containers.

The commercial oven fruit dryer is similarly designed, but the fruit is dried using only the gas pilot light or electric over light. Fruits are washed and cut to desired size, then dipped in a solution of drying crystals and water for 1 minute, after which they are placed on trays. The rack is then set in the oven until the fruit is dry, from 12 to 18 hours.

The heavier texture and stronger flavor of dried fruits makes them even more adaptable to cooking than their fresh counterparts. They have a concentrated, natural sweetness, requiring less processed sugar than fresh fruit.

Food drying allows the homemaker to take advantage of the bounty of her garden or fresh food "buys." This oldest form of food preservation is less complex than canning and uses less energy than freezing. Dried fruits are easily stored.

Whether you decide to do your own fruitdrying or buy packaged dried fruits, you will enjoy these delicious recipes. Dried Apple Cake 2 cups dried apples 2 cups molasses 1 cup hot water 1 cup sugar 2/3 cup shortening 1 egg 3 cups flour 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/(c) teaspoon cloves 1 cup sour milk 1 teaspoon soda 1 cup raisins

Cook the apples in molasses and hot water until thick. Cream sugar, shortening, and egg together, and add cooled molasses-apple mixture. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the creamed mixture with sour milk and soda. Fold in raisins. Grease 2 loaf tins and divide mixture. Bake in a 325 degree F. oven for 1 hour, or until cake tester or toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Makes 2 loaves. Dried Fruit Compote 2/3 cup sugar 4 1/2 cups water 1 cup raisins 1 cup pitted prunes or figs 1 cup dried mixed fruits, or apricots 2/3 cup almonds, halved 1 cinnamon stick 3 whole dried allspice 1/2 chopped nuts

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar and water. Stir until sugar dissolves, then simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes.Add fruits, almonds, and spices. Cover, and simmer 8 to 12 minutes. Spoon into individual serving dishes and chill.

Top with chopped nuts and whipped cream, if desired. Serves 6 to 8. Pot Roast With Dried Fruits 3- to 4-pound beef chuck roast $2 tablespoons shortening 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 1/3 cup finely chopped carrot 1/4 cup beef bouillon 1 clove garlic, minced 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 3/4 cups mixed dried fruits (or 1 11-ounce package) 1 1/2 cups hot water 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1/2 cup cold water

In Dutch oven, brown meat on both sides in hot shortening. Add onion, carrot , bouillon, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cover. Simmer 2 hours. Pour 1 1/2 cups hot water over fruit and let stand 1 hour. Drain, reserving liquid. Place fruit over meat. Cover and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour or till tender. Remove to warm platter. Measure pan juices. Skim off excess fat. Add reserved liquid to equal 1 1/2 cups. Blend flour and 1/2 cup cold water. Stir into pan juices. Cook and stir until bubbly. Pass with roast. Serves 6. Dried Fruit Pies 2 cups mixed dried fruit, cut up 3/4 cup dried apricots 3/4 cup raisins 1 cup water 3/4 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind Pastry for two-crust 9-inch pie

Combine all ingredients except pastry in saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Cool. Line bottom of 9-inch pie pan with pastry.Fill with dried fruit mixture. Cover with top crust. Bake at 400 degrees F. 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325 degrees F. and continue baking 20 minutes more, until pastry is browned. Dried Apricot Preserves 2 cups dried apricots 2 cups water 1 1/2 cups sugar Grated peel and juice of 1 orange Juice of 1 lemon

Bring apricots and water to a boil in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, then simmer uncovered until apricots are tender and have absorbed most of the liquid, about 10 minutes. Mash apricots, then stir in sugar. Stir over low heat until thickened, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in orange peel and orange and lemon juices. Spoon into small hot sterilized jars. Seal at once. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/2 pints.

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