4 tips for getting the best sun-dried produce

July 28, 2015

Outdoor drying is a fun, fast and inexpensive way to preserve foods. Here's some tips for mastering your drying techniques.

4 tips for getting the best sun-dried produce

1. Protect your produce

  • Use trays made from parallel wooden slats or from non-metallic, insect-screen gauze.
  • The mesh should be tacked or stapled to wooden frames.
  • Protect against insects with cheesecloth draped over wooden blocks at each corner. Don't let the cloth touch the food, and weigh down the edges of the cloth with stones.
  • Spread prepared food on trays in single layers so that the pieces don't touch one another.

2. Find the perfect spot

  • Choose a suitable warm spot for the trays — a heat-reflecting concrete path or driveway or a deck or patio in full or part sun are ideal.
  • Bare ground will do, but the food might be contaminated by dust and grit. Humidity given off by a grass lawn will slow the drying process.
  • A corrugated iron roof could give off too much heat, baking the food from underneath.
  • Raise the trays 15 centimetres (six inches) above the ground to help air circulation.
  • For exposure to the maximum amount of heat, tilt the trays to face the sun.
  • Put trays out as soon as the morning dew has evaporated. At dusk, either bring the trays indoors or cover them with canvas or plastic.
  • After the initial sun-drying period, drying should be completed in a well-ventilated, shady place.

3. Blanch first for speedy ­drying

  • Blanching — brief heat treatment in boiling water — helps preserve the produce while retaining colour and texture.
  • Blanching speeds the drying process by removing wax or other surface coatings on the produce, and makes peeling easier by loosening the skins.
  • You can blanch most vegetables and fruits that will be skinned before cooking.
  • Onions, garlic, leeks and mushrooms should be dried without blanching.
  • Use your largest pot and add pieces of produce a little at a time so that the water will quickly return to the boil.
  • After blanching, cool pieces immediately under cold, running water.
  • Peeling or nicking skins will aid the evaporation process.

4. How to be a successful ­sun-drier

  • The general aim of drying is to let warm air circulate evenly around the food until it's crisp and totally free of moisture.
  • The basic requirement for outdoor drying is dry, consistently sunny weather.
  • Keep in mind that the longer the food is exposed to sunlight, the more vitamins it loses.
  • The food is also vulnerable to contamination by dust, insects, birds and animals.
  • Air pollution, including vehicle exhaust fumes, can also taint food.
  • Produce that's drying should never be allowed to get wet.
  • If it rains, transfer your produce to a sheltered, airy position until weather improves and drying can continue. If the food's only been drying for a day or two, it may develop mold anyways.
  • Apples, apricots, figs, grapes, peaches, pears and plums are perfect for outdoor drying.

Many foods can be saved and even given new flavours when dried. Be sure to find the perfect place for your outdoor drying, and keep and eye on the weather and the produce. This will help you get the best results possible.

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