Drying Food in the Dehydrator You Already Own: Your Car

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!)

WetFigsBut 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?

FigsOnDashWideBy 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.

FigsOnDashCUAlong 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).

FigsThermometer

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!

Figs_CarOnStreet

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.

CarFigsFinal

(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!)

47 Comments

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  3. Aubrey

    We also dry herbs in the car as well. I just cover the back seat with butcher paper, spread them out, crack a window and wait a couple of hours.

    The car smells wonderful for days after!

  4. steve

    Nice experiment. THis is something that I would have tried. You might consider experimenting with the following adaptations. First, you may wish to improve air flow. Perhaps open the sunroof a little and a back window. Second, use something like cheesecloth as a flooring material in your box and cut away much of the cardboard. THe cheesecloth can wick moisture and increase surface area for evaporation. Third, elevate the box so that warm dry air passes through the box.

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  18. Dr Cohen

    Magnificent. Excellent contribution, for which you are thanked. Rather excited about re-connecting with food in such a basic way… and reaping the fruits of your wisdom… Just great!

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  22. Erica

    My coworker is the daughter of Norwegian immigrants who live in Ballard. Her dad has two old VW buses in their yard that he has “repurposed” as fruit dehydrators. They have several apple and Italian plum trees and lots of dried fruit that lasts through the winter!

  23. FrAk

    Fantastic! Where I live this will work SO well! We have temperatures in the mid to high 40C for 6 months of the year. I had never even thought about using the car! Thank you:) I can’t wait to try it:)

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  32. Boobala

    Omg thanku. I was getting so frustrated trying to find a simple. Lazy. Non committal,way to simply dry some apricots. The truck came by, in my neighborhood and for $5 I got a box of 100 apricots. Call me whatever, but hey, It’s not my career to dry fruit. I made a smoothie w/2 of them.. Then I was frowning. I don’t like to bake stuff, I don’t make preserves, I got them cheap..cause they have brown spots and about to go bad. WTF… I don’t have a dehydrator, I don’t want to make a dehydrator I don’t feel like building anything I simply want to dry some fruit, I buy dried fruit all the time..they were $5 bucks.. I had to find a way not to waste them. Thanks so much!

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