Dried fruits of summer make delicious winter desserts
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
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.