Homesteaders work awfully hard to cultivate and harvest their own homegrown fruit. After all of the diligent time, care and energy you put into the process it is only right that you should be able to enjoy the literal fruits of your labors!
But unfortunately you’ll have a pretty limited amount of time to do that. Most fruits, whatever kind, tend to spoil pretty quickly unless they are preserved.
Speaking of, many fruits are destined for preservation as part of preserves, jams and jellies, while others may be frozen for later use.
But there is one method of preservation that is simple, wholesome and takes very little effort on your part. It doesn’t even require any electricity!
I’m talking about air drying. The air drying of fruit is a practice that has been around for millennia, used all around the world on all kinds of fruit.
Whether you want to shake up your preservation procedures or just learn a new skill that isn’t dependent on modern technology, air drying might be the way to go with your fruit.
We’ll tell you everything you need to know and give you a step-by-step guide below.
Table of Contents
No Electricity, No Problem
Far and away my favorite thing about this traditional air-drying process for fruit is how simple and easy it is. You don’t need some electrical dehydrator whirring away on your countertop.
You won’t be dependent upon your usual, fussy multi-step canning process. You won’t even need any freezer bags to pop in the icebox.
All you need is your fruit, a knife, a tray, the power of the sun and that is pretty much it. Okay you might need one or two other small things but we will talk about that later.
And that’s the beauty of it, that’s what I’m talking about! Air drying is something that you can do anytime you have fruit and cooperative weather.
You don’t need any of the things we take for granted in the modern kitchen.
You might be surprised to learn just how long various people throughout various cultures around the world have been air drying fruit.
This is a process going back thousands and thousands of years, used successfully on just about every kind of fruit you can think of.
Our ancestors dried fruit for the same reasons that we do today, namely to preserve it and prevent waste, but also to make fruit easier to transport and easy to eat while on the go.
It’s kind of interesting to think about someone a thousand years ago, someone maybe like us, enjoying their own trail mix with some dried berries in it the same as we do today.
But all that aside this is also a method that you can depend on even when you are forced to do without electricity or any of those modern appliances I mentioned above.
Even if you can’t boil water you’ll still be able to get by with air drying once you know what you are doing.
Most Fruits Can Be Air Dried with This Process
My second favorite thing about air drying fruit is how adaptable the process is. Pretty much any fruit that you can think of is suitable for air drying with the right modifications to the technique.
Now, sure, some fruits do much better than others and each one has its share of pros and cons, but no matter what kind of fruit you have you should be able to air dry it just fine, weather cooperating.
Chances are you’re already familiar with some of the best candidates for the air drying process, as you’ll see them for sale in just about every grocery store.
Apples, bananas, raisins (which as you know are grapes before they are dried), figs, peaches, dates and apricots are excellent fare for air drying.
But it doesn’t stop there. Tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, guava and pineapple can all be air dried as well.
In fact, just about the only fruits that don’t take well to air drying are melons. The water content is so high that they evaporate away into nearly nothing.
But other than that, you won’t run into too many problems no matter what you favorite is.
Keep in mind that once your fruit is successfully air-dried they will each have a slightly varying shelf life, taste and texture.
Now, the shelf lives of all fruits benefit from the drying process, but you’ll have to experiment a little bit to find the right combination of preferred taste and longevity concerning the finished product: You can overdo it and wind up with hard, desiccated fruit pieces that will last forever, or pull them too early and get delectable, tender bits that will still spoil pretty fast.
So, if you have your fruit picked out and are ready to begin it is time to get into the details.
Your Guide to the Air Drying Process
It is time to get to work. Or rather, work such as it is: you’ll notice that air drying fruit the old-fashioned way is a pretty simple process.
It isn’t particularly labor intensive, and once you have the fruit prepared all you’ll need to do is flip it every several hours for a couple of days until it is thoroughly dried.
However, there is one thing you must know before we get into the actual process. The weather in your area absolutely must cooperate if you want to get good results.
There are no two ways about it. You’ll need steady temperatures of about 90°F with humidity levels at or below 40% for the duration of the process with as much direct sunlight as you can get.
Cool weather and high humidity means your fruit won’t dry out. And if the weather in your area is just not suitable or just too erratic for several days you’ll need to preserve your fruit some other way or wait until you have good weather.
Now, with that caveat out of the way let’s get to the process.
The easy 10 step process is as follows:
- Cover and Place
- Keep Turning
Every step will be explained in detail in the following sections.
Washing your fruit is an essential step no matter what you plan on doing with it, but particularly important when following this air drying procedure.
You want to wash the fruit to remove any existing germs from the skin or flesh, and in the case of purchased fruit to remove any preservatives like waxes or other undesirable substances that might taint it.
Cool water and a soft brush or rag is all that is required generally. You don’t need to use anything except water and occasionally a drop of vinegar to get the tough stuff off.
Avoid the temptation to use any harsh cleansers as these will likely impair the air drying process.
With the fruit washed it is time to peel it. You’ll want to remove the skins, rinds and peels of most fruit. Apples, pears, grapes and similar fruits with thin, edible skins are an exception.
Fruit with particularly tough rind or peels like bananas, pineapples and the like should absolutely be peeled prior to drying.
Though some traditional methods of air drying may opt to leave the skin on certain fruits it generally impacts the final taste and texture in a bad way.
All you need here is your usual fruit peeler or your favorite paring knife. Take care that you preserve as much of the fruit’s flesh as possible when peeling.
Once you have the fruit peeled to your satisfaction, it is time to slice it or chunk it into small pieces of uniform size.
Precision matters a little bit here since you want your fruit to be of similar size so that it will dry at a consistent and predictable rate.
If you haphazardly chop up your fruit or slice it into different thicknesses you’ll have some pieces ready significantly earlier than others.
The optimum size of a chunk or thickness of a slice depends on the fruit. A good rule of thumb is that you don’t want any particular piece thicker than around 3/8 of an inch in any dimension, though particularly dense fruits like apricots and peaches to be sliced a little thicker, around half an inch.
Keep in mind that the greater the moisture content of the piece of fruit the more it will shrink overall as this moisture is lost to evaporation in the drying process! Slice your fruit too thin and it will shrivel up into basically nothing.
The next step is to dunk your fruit pieces or slices in a bath of ascorbic acid or lemon juice.
This important but optional step will help preserve your dried fruit even longer and prevent outbreaks of harmful bacteria that will spoil your efforts and potentially make you sick.
Think of it like a natural, harmless preservative. Aside from helping the fruit last longer, it will also prevent unsightly browning during the drying process, at least for most fruits.
If you want to go the ascorbic acid route, you’ll be able to purchase this stuff wherever canning supplies are sold (most of them) or pick it up from any specialty vitamin retailer or health food store.
Using it is simple: all you’ll need to do is mix it up according to the package directions and then immerse your fruit pieces in it for a few minutes before removing them.
When using ascorbic acid solution or a lemon juice bath, you’ll only be able to dunk two or three batches of fruit in the liquid before it loses enough potency that you should switch it out for fresh.
If you are making a large batch of dried fruit, plan on needing multiple lemon juice or ascorbic acid baths; one extra large bath probably won’t do it.
A simple but critical step. Whether or not you performed the preparatory treatment in the previous step, it is time to pat your fruit slices or pieces dry. You can use a fine, clean cloth for the purpose or lint-free paper towels.
Note that you aren’t trying to squish or flatten the fruit to squeeze all the moisture out of them as that will damage their flesh and result in an inferior final product.
Simply blot off any remaining solution or juice from the surface of your pieces, making sure to get all sides.
6. Cover and Place
All right, it is finally time to get our fruit ready to dry in the sun. You’ll need to place your pieces or slices on any suitable baking dish, pan or other piece of cookware you have handy.
Anything you usually use in the kitchen will work fine here. Glass, metal, stoneware, anything goes!
Place your pieces so that they are not touching, and preferably have at least a half-inch between each other.
As I mentioned above, yes, the pieces will shrink dramatically when the drying process is underway, but that doesn’t mean you should cram your tray as full as you can at the beginning.
With the tray loaded, it is time to cover it. Covering your fruit is essential to keep larger bits of debris, bugs and birds off of the pieces.
The cloth covering must be light and coarse enough that it allows plenty of light and air through for the drying process to work.
Try using cheesecloth if you have any, but any “gauzy” fabric or mesh can be made to work with a little bit of effort so long as it meets the criteria above.
Tuck in the sides of the cloth tightly to prevent any Intruders and then place the tray of fruit outside in direct sunlight, preferably propped up on a stand that will allow the pan to heat up evenly.
Now the hard work is finished. From here, all you’ll need to do is turn your pieces of fruit over every 3 to 4 hours while they are outside in the sun. Use this opportunity to move the tray to keep it in direct sunlight if you need to.
A quick note: you should be using a clean utensil or a gloved hand to flip your fruit pieces in order to reduce the amount of bacteria that will contaminate their surfaces.
Yes, the drying process does eliminate germs but that does not mean you should forsake good food-handling practices.
8. Keep Turning
Repeat the previous turning step every three to four hours as needed. When the sun goes down and the temperature starts to drop, you should bring your fruit inside for the day.
After the sun rises and temperatures start to climb the next morning, take your fruit back outside and place it in the same spot assuming the weather is cooperative.
Expect the process to take a minimum of two days, with three or four days being far more typical. Once your fruit looks good and dry you’ll need to test it.
Take a piece, break or cut it open, and examine it. It should be quite dry but not completely desiccated, and some fruits like raisins, apricots and the like will maintain a little bit of moisture on the inside.
Once your fruits are dried satisfactorily, bring them inside for the final two, quick steps.
If you have access to a freezer, it is highly recommended that you freeze your newly-dried fruit for a couple of hours.
This will kill off any lingering bacteria that might be lurking on the fruit, further extending the shelf life of your hard-earned reward.
If you don’t have access to a freezer, don’t worry about it, just take care that you try and prevent contamination of the fruit with your bare hands prior to storage.
All that’s left to do is store your fruit. You’ll easily get several months worth of shelf life out of most kinds of fruit, and some can last as long as a year.
You can store them in a jar, Ziploc bag or any other container that you prefer. If you have access to a freezer you can freeze your dried fruits to radically extend the shelf life, in excess of a year.
But that’s all there is to it! You have officially air-dried your own fruit the old-fashioned way, no appliances and no electricity necessary!
Air Dry Your Own Fruit Today
You don’t need to rely on the benefit of electricity or any modern technology to preserve your fruit. You don’t even need to work particularly hard if you know how to air dry it effectively.
Air dried fruit has been a staple in many cultures around the world for a very long time, and you can make use of the same technique today to preserve your own so long as the weather cooperates.
Let us know if you have ever used this technique with success down in the comments.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.