Considerable savings will be reflected on your food bill and the marvelous tastes of summer can be enjoyed on cold winter mornings if you decide this year to take advantage of solar food drying.
If you are unfamiliar with drying as a means of food preservation, you may want think about it now to plan for the avalanche of economical fruits and vegetables come harvest time. Apples are one of the easiest fruits. Berries, figs, seedless grapes, peaches, and pears can also be dried easily.
Carefully remove any overripe, decayed, or bruised areas from the fruits and vegetables. Wash, peel, core, and slice. Try to make all slices as uniform in size as possible.
Steam blanching: Steam apples approximately 5 minutes depending on texture; grapes, 1 minute; peaches, 8 minutes; pears, 2 to 6 minutes. Use only steam. Do not immerse in water, it will give the fruit a cooked flavor.
Ascorbic acid solution: Soak fruit 15 to 30 minutes in a solution of ascorbic acid using 4 teaspoons per quart of water.
Berries and figs will not need blanching but you must blanch all vegetables except okra, onions, and parsley. After preparation, place the fruit in single layers on drying trays.
Solar drying does not require a lot of equipment. Drying trays can be constructed by covering a wooden frame with nylon mesh, aluminum screen, or wooden slats. Do not use galvanized screen or hardware cloth.
Line each tray with cheesecloth and place fruit on it. With another piece of cheesecloth cover the entire tray securely.
Put trays on bricks or something off the ground to provide air circulation. Turning at 2-hour intervals will hasten the drying process.
Drying by the sun proceeds faster when temperatures reach the 90 to 100 degree F. mark by noon and the humidity is low, but day-to-day variations in temperature, humidity, and the amount of sun make it impossible to set a definite time for drying any one item.
Apples will take 2 or more days. Check often. Apples are leathery and pliable when dry. Vegetables will be hard and brittle when dry.
Proper storage of dried fruits and vegetables is very important. Place sun-dried fruits in a clean, dry, sterilized jar and seal tightly. A plastic bag sealed securely can also be used.
Foods dried in an oven or dehydrator should be allowed to come to room temperature before being placed in jars or plastic bags to prevent moisture.
Place in a dry, cool, dark place.
Fruits and vegetables last from 6 months to 1 year.