Sunday, 25 January 2009
To have one's fruit - and dry it
Dried apple rings are my favourite snacks and I get through loads of them. They have no added sugar but because you only eat a ring at a time you don't get the massive fruit-sugar high you can accidentally get by eating a whole box of raisins (which, believe me, I could - I love ALL dried fruit). Recently I noticed that my dried apples came from China though, and that made me sad as I try really hard only to buy European, and preferably British fruit to keep down their carbon footprint. I've been thinking about whether it was worth buying a food dehydrator ever since a friend told me how much she loved her's but it never seemed like a very cost-effective thing to do. I was pretty sure it would fall into disuse and just take up space. With my new-found worry about the impact of my beloved dried apple on the environment though I decided to take the plunge.
I looked around on the internet and settled on one from this company. I think they may have changed their exact range since I ordered, but you get the idea. You can dry all sorts of fruit in it, plus vegetables and herbs - and meat and fish, should you wish to do so. You can also dry fruit purees to make fruit leather which I mean to try some time soon as well. The dehydrator arrived really quickly - in fact it turned up by special delivery much earlier than our usual post, and while The Scientist was in the shower, so he came down to find loads of mystery white trays drying on the draining board with no apparent source of delivery! The trays are filled and stacked - as many as you want although it's more energy efficient to do quite a few at once. The top has a motor in it which dries the contents over a long period of time.
My first attempt at dehydration was, of course, apples. I tried two different types of apples, and also threw in a pear which was hanging around in the fruit bowl. I washed them all, sliced them quite thinly and dried them for the full recommended 8 hours. Lesson 1: coring an apple with a knife is a pain in the neck and it's much easier just to slice them and then cut out the hard bits. And no, I'm not adding further to our repertoire of single-use gadgets by buying a corer :)
The home-dried apples were a lot thinner and drier than the ones I'm used to, but they had an amazing apple flavour. The pears were actually by far the best as they kept a bit more moisture. For my next batch I tried drying the apples for a shorter time - more like 5 or 6 hours, and this time I used less thinly-sliced apple, and banana. I liked the thicker apple slices better but they were still a bit chewier and drier than I would like. The bananas were amazing though, especially when they were still warm - little bites of intense chewy banana flavour. They didn't last long. Just now I am drying some thicker slices still of apple and pear, and I mean to take them out after a shorter time again. I'm not sure what the impact on their keeping power will be, though that's not usually a problem round here.
So I have still to replicate my bought dried apple rings but I'm making progress and it's fun trying out other types of fruit. I like the idea of being able to dry anything in season - I mean to buy big batches of tomatoes and dry them later in the year. It is quite a big machine though, and I have yet to find a proper home for it when it's not in use. It's also quite noisy so you can really only set it running when you're not going to be in the next room all afternoon. And I do want to find out how much energy it uses since it's on so long. I just hope it's less than flying the bought ones over from China!