DRYING FRUIT, VEGETABLES AND HERBS

Certain fruits can be dried in the home quite simply and without expensive apparatus. The fruits that dry best are apples, grapes, pears and stone fruits, but some varieties, especially of plums, are more suitable than others. Soft fruits and berries are not generally satisfactory.

All that is required is a number of trays made from four wooden laths nailed together to form a square that fits into the oven, drying cupboard or plate-rack. Wire gauze or canvas is nailed over the framework and the trays are covered with muslin to prevent the fruit from sticking. Great heat is harmful; scorching must be avoided; the temperature should never exceed 150 degrees F. Drying can well be done with the heat that remains in the oven after cooking is finished, drying being continued on several days if necessary.

A plate-rack over the fire can often be used, but care must be taken to guard against smoke.

Fruits should be fresh and just ripe; dried at this stage, they retain their colour and flavour better. Most fruits should be halved or sliced, as this hastens the process. Grapes or small plums, however, are usually dried whole.

The fruit should be dried to a leathery consistency but not hard. The time required will depend on the temperature and may be anything from about four hours for apple rings, at a temperature of 140 degrees F., to twelve hours or more for juicy varieties of plums.

Occasional turning will hasten the process.

Vegetables for drying should be young and fresh, and most kinds first need blanching in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. They are then put into cold water and drained well.

String beans should be sliced in the usual way and dried till brittle.

Broad beans should be shelled. Only a few varieties of peas (chiefly the marrowfats or blue marrow varieties, such as Harrison’s Glory) are suitable for drying by artifical heat and they should be gathered when young and tender.

Surplus beans (haricot varieties) and peas of most varieties can best be air-dried.

Green pods should not be picked, but all allowed to ripen on the plants as far as possible. If sufficiently dried and kept in a dry place, they should keep well for many months.

When using dried fruits and vegetables they should be soaked overnight or longer before being cooked, until they regain their normal size. They should be brought to the boil slowly in the water in which they have been soaked and boiled until tender. Sugar added to fruit should be put in just before cooking is finished; this prevents toughness. Herbs should be gathered just before the plants flower, then should be washed, tied in bundles, protected from dust with a piece of muslin and hung up to dry near a fire.

The leaves of the larger kinds may be picked from the stalks, blanched in boiling water and dried in a cool oven at a temperature of no° F to 130 degrees F. The leaves should be dried until quite crisp and then crushed or sieved to a powder and stored in bottles or tins away from the light.

Parsley keeps its colour better if it is placed in a very hot oven for one minute rather than dried slowly, but it must not be scorched.

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