Using a home dehydrator to make dried fruit is an easy way to provide simple, healthful snacks for your family. Fresh fruit either gets eaten within a few days, or goes bad and ends up in the garbage (along with your money.) Either a solar or electric dehydrator dries fresh fruit that you can then store for months.
Drying foods was the method used throughout history to preserve them when there was an excess. Before bottling or freezing had even been thought about, dehydration could keep the extra fruit harvest available throughout the winter and spring, until new fruit ripened the next summer. The ways our ancestors dried fruit, and other foods, was very labor intensive. With solar or electric food dehydrators preservation in this form became easier and faster.
Extracting the water from fruits concentrates natural sugars. Dried apples, pineapple, mangos, bananas, etc., will be much sweeter than the fruit itself. The increased sugar is one of the benefits of drying fruit. In case of emergency, or just your children needing a snack, a little goes a long way. And once again, it is still actually as healthful as the original fruit. The fact that dried fruit takes some time to chew in order to get the flavor out of it means your children will be satisfied with less. Your home dehydrated fruits have advantages over the ones purchased in the store: they are less expensive, you know exactly what has been added (nothing,) and you can package them in individual serving sizes you choose for your children.
Drying fruit leather on an electric food dehydrator, be certain the thermostat reads high (approximately 140°F) at the beginning of the process. For the first two hours of drying, the fruit needs to “sweat.” You want to withdraw the water from the fruit as rapidly as possible because the moisture keeps the fruit cooler than the heated air. Rapid water removal minimizes the opportunity for fungi or bacteria to grow on your fruit.
If you have an older, single-setting dehydrator, or are using solar power, don’t worry. They have dried fruit long before variable temperature units were available. If you are replacing an old dryer or purchasing your very first, choose one with an adjustable thermostat.
To begin the drying process, you need to wash your fruit thoroughly. Fruits with skins need to be pared before you begin. Any pesticides or wax coatings added in processing need to be removed before dehydrating. If you grow your own organic fruit this step is still necessary, but you won’t need to be quite as aggressive about it. Peeling also speeds up drying. Then slice the fruit. A mandoline slicer works well if you are not very skilled with a regular knife. You always get uniform slices by using one.
Apples, pears, apricots, and peaches need to be pre-treated to limit oxidation which will turn them brown. Pre-treating only requires dipping the slices in syrup, fruit juice, or a manufactured ascorbic acid mixture available in the produce department of your store. If you choose to dip in syrup or juice, your fruit leather will become even sweeter. Spread the slices in a single layer on your dryer shelves. Most dehydrators need between 4 and 24 hours to completely extract moisture from fruit. Make note of the time you use. Then if the fruit is too dry, or not completely dehydrated, you can adjust your particular dryer.
One quarter inch apple slices, apricots quartered, length sliced bananas, whole blueberries, split cherries to remove pit, stem free whole grapes, skinned and sliced mangoes, skinned-cored-sliced pineapples, and strawberry halves or slices, are the general drying cuts for the most popular dried fruits. Check for dryness by tearing one piece in half. If there aren’t any beads of moisture, you have dehydrated fruit!