When I look outside at the over 100 degree F. sunshine baking my property, I’m frustrated that I can’t use it all. I feel the same when it rains here in semi-desert San Diego county. I am hoping to purchase solar panels for my house, but until then I have my laundry on the line and fruit on the roof. Yep. The bounty of fruit and vegetables always appears during the hottest months, and I’ve spent many summers sweltering in the kitchen cooking jam and canning tomatoes. Something in my Celtic and Eastern European genes ignores the long growing season here and sends a message to my brain to preserve everything for the coming harsh winter imbedded in my genetic memory. Survival food for the blizzardy months! Um… yeah… reality check here. Although I try to eat locally grown seasonal produce, you can buy just about anything anytime of year here, although not without a decline in the quality. To give in to my desire to not waste sun energy or food this summer I’ve been slicing and drying fruit and vegetables on trays up on the roof, with excellent results.
If you have a flat sunny spot that ants haven’t found, you too can dry food. You don’t need to use preservatives. It is a great way to save bananas that are just about to go black, or the ends of the tomatoes that are too small to put on a sandwich. The most labor is in slicing the food and then later flipping it on the trays.
Sun-Dried Fruit and Vegetables
You will need:
Produce such as fresh apricots or other stonefruit, apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, squash.
Reflective cookie sheets (not Silpat)
Thinly slice produce such as apricots, tomatoes, apples, bananas, etc. You don’t have to peel stone-fruit or tomatoes; actually the skin helps hold the innards together. If you have produce with inedible skins such as melon or bananas, then by all means take it off. I like small pieces so that the dried fruit can be directly used in baking or on top of fresh fruit or cereal without having to be cut up again. (Snipping dried apricots with a scissors is soooo time-consuming). However, don’t slice them too small or when they dry they will turn into little dots which are hard to scrape up. You can leave small fruit such as blueberries and alpine strawberries whole but they may take longer to dry.
Place the sliced or whole fruit or vegetables on cookie sheets or pizza pans that are reflective aluminum. Space the fruit so that it isn’t touching, but the pieces can be very close together (they will shrink considerably).
Measure pieces of cheesecloth so that there is enough to cover the tops of the trays and hang over the sides so that it can be pulled taught and not touch the fruit.
Place prepared trays of covered fruit on the roof, on a hot porch, or anywhere it will not be invaded by ants. Leave the trays out all day until the sun is no longer on them, then bring them in for the night. Don’t leave them out in damp weather.
Using a sharp spatula, scrape up the fruit bits and turn them over, re-spacing them not to touch, and replace the cheesecloth.
The next day set the trays out again. Depending on how hot your roof is, the fruit should be dried at the end of the second day. If using whole fruit like blueberries or grapes, it may take a few days. Fruit is dried when there are no moist pockets in them.
Store the fruit in covered jars, and use during those bleak winter months when you plot your spring garden.