Drying is not a precise method of food preservation, and the amount of drying time will vary depending on the equipment, moisture content of the fruit and the humidity in the air. Spray a cookie sheet or similar flat tray with vegetable spray, or line the tray with plastic wrap or parchment paper and spray with vegetable spray. Another option is to use the specially designed plastic sheets for electric dehydrators, and follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Oven drying: Test your oven to be sure it can maintain a low enough temperature; otherwise, “case hardening” may occur. This is the formation of a “crust” on the food, which prevents the interior from drying properly.
To test your oven, set it to the lowest setting. Place an oven-safe thermometer on the rack where food will be placed. Leave the oven door open 2 to 6 inches. Place a fan near the open door to circulate air. Check the temperature. If your oven can maintain a low enough temperature (140 to 145 F), it may be used for food dehydration. Racks should be 2 inches apart, with at least 3 inches of clearance from the top or bottom to the rack. See Table 1 for approximate drying times.
Note: Oven drying is not a safe procedure to follow if young children and pets are present.
Food dehydrator drying: Follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Testing for Dryness
Fruits should not be dried to the point of being brittle or hard; they should be leathery and pliable. To test for dryness, remove a few pieces and allow them to cool to room temperature. Squeeze a handful of the fruit. The pieces should spring apart when released. Cut several cool pieces in half. You should not see any moisture, and the fruit should not be sticky.
Conditioning – A Post-drying Treatment
After drying, the “conditioning” process helps equalize moisture among the various-sized pieces of fruit. It lessens the chances of mold growth and other spoilage. To condition, place cooled dried fruit loosely in glass or plastic containers. Lightly cover the containers and store them in a dry, well-ventilated place, stirring or shaking the container(s) daily for four to seven days. If moisture condenses in the jar, return the fruit to the dehydrator or oven for further drying, then repeat the conditioning process.
Packaging and Storing
Pack cooled dried fruits in small amounts in dry glass jars (preferably dark) or in moisture- and vapor-proof freezer containers, boxes or bags. Using glass containers allows you to see moisture buildup on the interior immediately. Put the containers in a cool, dry, dark place or in the refrigerator or freezer. Properly stored, dried fruits keep well for six to 12 months. Discard foods that have off odors or show signs of mold.
Using Dried Fruit
Dried fruit can be eaten as snacks as-is or reconstituted for use in pies and other recipes. To reconstitute, place fruit in a pan and cover with boiling water; simmer covered until tender (about 15 minutes).