I’m on the road this week doing some author appearances so The Tangled Nest continues to be tended by guest bloggers. Today, a recent experiment by my husband Tom (aka Bikejuju):
Thanks to our unseasonably hot dry summer, Seattle’s fruit trees are exploding with plums, pears, apples, figs, fruit of all kinds. Last week a friend mentioned that her figs were going to waste, and I zoomed over there to reap the bounty. (Only to discover that her yard was also dripping in plums and pears! Triple the harvest!)
But when I got home, I realized I would need to dry many of the riper figs pretty quickly or they’d ripen beyond edibility. So I began searching the internet for simple drying methods. I found designs for all kinds of cool-looking solar dryers that seemed simple enough to build-and I may build one yet. But meanwhile, what about these ripe figs? With a little more searching I found a simple idea that made immediate, intuitive sense: why not use the fine German-engineered solar collector we already had sitting in our driveway?
By then I had already sliced the figs thin enough to dry fairly rapidly (I hoped). They were sitting in the sun in an old box with its side cut off, with a screen on top to keep out bugs. They seemed to be making very slow progress towards dehydrating. I moved them to the dashboard of our car.
Along with them, I moved our kitchen thermometer. For dehydrating, you want the food to dry fast enough that mold does not grow, but you don’t want to cook it, and you want some enzymes to survive. So for vegetables and fruit you aim for temperatures in the 100-150 degree range. (There are schools of thought on the perfect temperature, of course. You can spend a whole evening reading the internet arcana about dehydrating – perfect dehydrating temperatures, enzyme survival, et cetera, if that interests you).
On a warm Seattle afternoon (high 70s), the temperature in the car was just about perfect. (The surface temperature of the drying fruit will theoretically be slightly lower due to the cooling effect of evaporation). On hotter days or in hotter places I suppose the temperature could be managed through careful window-opening.
I confess this experiment was not entirely carbon-neutral: when our driveway shaded over at about 3 PM, I backed the car onto the street to get four more hours of direct sun!
The figs spent a couple of sunny days in the car (intermittently – we took them out when we ran errands, and during the night), and we ended up with a nice dehydrated snack. We will be consuming these in the next few weeks so I did not let them get overly dry, but to prevent mold you want to be sure foods are very well dried before storing them away in a bag in the cupboard.
(If you have a tree exploding with fruit, there are some wonderful Seattle programs like City Fruit and Community Harvest that will harvest your excess fruit and donate it to food banks – call them, or volunteer with them to go help pick this year’s bounty!)