Drying Summer Fruits and Veggies for That Cold Winter
As July rolls to a close you may be realizing that you only have one more month of real summer left. Sure, we can usually count on September for sunshine and warmth, but you never know when that cold front is going to suddenly sweep in and then what will you do? Huddle in your chilly apartment thawing out cans of ravioli? It’s time to get prepared.
Most of your favorite fruits, berries, and vegetables will be in season now. In fact, as summer comes to an end, many farmers wind up with a big surplus in something or other (commonly tomatoes) and need to offload their stock for cheap before they rot. You can use this to your advantage by buying large quantities of fruits and vegetables and then storing them for winter. And they won’t go bad because you’re going to resort to a super free and super old technique known as “drying” (pronounced “drying”). Yep that’s right. Just dry those suckers out, pop ‘em in the pantry, and you’ll be eating right all winter long.
Now there are two methods of drying without resorting to a fancy and rather expensive dehydrator: the roof or the oven. The roof method also works with fire escapes and backyards/front lawns in case you have access to either one of those.
Now the first step is acquiring the fruits, vegetables, or berries. Your local supermarket isn’t too bad but if you can get out of the city and find a farm that offers a “pick them yourself” type deal, that’s where you’ll get the much-needed bang for your buck. Pick a few buckets of blackberries or try to score some grapes. Larger fruits are also fine, although you’ll have to chop them up before you dry them.
Now that you’ve harvested enough foodstuffs see you through the coming months, you’ll need to discard any rotten or badly bruised fruits. These will not dry properly. Bigger fruits and vegetables will need to be chopped up in slices of around ½ inch. Some people sprinkle citrus juice on the chopped pieces (unnecessary on berries or grapes) to keep the exposed skin from decaying while the fruit dries. Not a bad idea at all if you’re going for quality. After all, you’re going to be eating a lot of this shit. You might also try lightly salting them or even adding some other spices depending on your tastes and pleasures. Use your imagination and judgment. I trust you.
Next, get some plastic or a tray. Set them out to dry wherever it is you can, trying to maximize the amount of time they spend in direct sunlight. If you live in a dry climate you can leave them out at night, but here in New York, you’ll need to bring them in at sundown or whenever it gets wet and chilly in the evening. Leaving them out in the rain is also not advisable. After about two weeks, you should have nicely dried specimens ready for collection. Be sure to keep them in a relatively air tight and dry environment. The freezer also works.
Should you lack access to an appropriate drying space, you might need to use an oven. Fine. I think it’s lame, but listen: you should follow your own heart in the matter. So the trick to using the oven is NOT cooking the food, but rather drying it. Heat that oven to around 140° F. Put your food on a tray. You should space it all out carefully. It should not be in a pile. Put it in the oven. Give it a few hours. Check frequently. The fruit or whatever should be crispy yet rubbery. Most important is whether or not the food is dry. Be sure it is or you’ll get mould when you try to store it anywhere except the freezer. So err on the side of caution.
The final step is enjoying your dried fruits for the winter season and NOT sharing them with your friends who were all too content to fool around all summer long. Jerks.