Wash and sort vegetables or fruits as for table use. Blanch them before freezing to inactiviate enzymes which might cause flavor change and vitamin loss. There are two methods:
Blanching in Boiling Water
Allow 1 gallon (3.8 L) water for each pound (456g) of fruits or vegetables, except wild which might need twice as much water. Bring water to a rolling boil. Immerse fruits or vegetables in a wire basket or tied loosely in cheesecloth. Cover pot and boil at top heat the amount of time listed for each fruit or vegetable. Begin counting as soon as fruits or vegetables are in the water. Cool immediately by plunging into cold running water for the same amount of time used in blanching. Drain and pack in moisture-vapor-proof containers. Expel air from bags; leave 1/2 inch (1.25) head space in rigid containers. Seal tightly.
Put 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water in a pot; bring to a rolling boil. Suspend a thin layer of fruit or vegetable in a wire basket or loose cheesecloth over rapidly boiling water. Cover and process for the time listed for each fruit or vegetable. Plunge into cold water, drain and pack as above.
Certain dried foods need to be heated briefly again before storage to prevent spoiling. Sun-dried foods, vegetables cut into small pieces and foods allowed to stand exposed to air after drying should all be pasteurized. Sun-dried foods and those allowed to stand for a while after drying may be contaminated by insects or other airborne bacteria, while small vegetable pieces require such a short drying time that it may be sufficient to destroy unwanted bacteria. There are two ways to pasteurize either fruits or vegetables:
- Heat dried food on trays in an 150 degree Fahrenheit (65 degree Celsius) oven for 30 minutes.
- Heat in a 175 degree Fahrenheit (80 degree Celsius) oven — fruits for 15 minutes; and vegetables for 10 minutes.
Berries with thick or tough skins–blueberries, serviceberries, crowberries–should be blanched or ‘checked’ before drying. otherwise only the skin will dry and the inside of the berry will remain moist. Place a small amount of the berries at a time in a colander or cheese bag and dunk in rapidly boiling water for one minute. Drain thoroughly as the berries should harbor no excess moisture when they are spread to dry.
There are two basic ways to dry out wild berries. They may be dried whole or pureed and then dried. If you add sugar to the puree, you have Fruit Leather, but the puree may be dried without it.
It is possible to make your own dryer with several shelves for holding the berries as they dry. There are commercial dryers for home use on the market too. I recommend the Ronco Food Dehydrator. Most drying with the dehydrator can be dried in less time than 24 hours versus oven method which can take up to four days when drying meat for example. However, unless you plan to go into drying in a big way, the sun or oven drying methods will do well enough. Sun-dried fruit seems to have the best flavor; probably that is natural. Sun-dried fruit should be pasteurized before storing.
Oven-Drying Whole Berries
Whole berries may be dried this way. Set oven at lowest heat. Line a cookie sheet with a single layer of paper towels and spread out the berries. Put in the oven and leave the oven door ajar a bit to allow moisture to escape. Drying will take about four hours. Dry until berries are hard and rattle when shaken on a tray.
Stored Dried Berries
Put dried berries into airtight plastic bags or screw-top jars and store in a cool, dry place. Inspect occasionally for mold.
Using Dried Berries
Whole dried berries may be used like raisins or commercially dried currants; or they may be reconstituted by adding a little water and allowing to soak for an hour or so, then simmering gently for a few minutes. Purees may be reconstituted in similar fashion; or crush purees with a rolling pin and add the powder to puddings, pies and other berry dishes.
Purees, Fruit Leathers and Chips
Fruit leathers are dried leathery sheets of pureed fruit. Fruit chips are made from crisp fruit leather that break easily. Both have tangy, concentrated fruit flavor that makes them a favorite snack for anyone, especially handy to pack in a lunch or backpack. Much of the following information about making purees, fruit leathers and chips and the individual recipes are excerpted and adapted from the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service Bulletin P-228, “Fruit Leather.”
Rose Hip Puree: Use soft rip rose hips (the riper they are the sweeter they are). It takes about 4 cups (1 L) of rose hips to make 2 cups (480 L) of puree. Remove stalks and blossom ends. Rinse berries in cold water. Put them in a pan and add enough water to almost cover. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Press through a sieve or strainer. All that does not go through the sieve is placed in the pan again. Add a little water, enough to almost cover, if you want a thicker puree, add slightly less water. This time heat but do not boil so vigorously. This will dissolve a little more of the fruit so that it will go through the sieve. Press again and then repeat the process one more time. By now, most of the fruit should have gone through the sieve leaving only seeds and skin to discard.
Rhubarb Puree: Wash and cut about 1 quart (1 L) of rhubarb into small 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces. Put 1/4 cup (60 mL) water in a saucepan and add rhubarb. Cook only until rhubarb starts to soften. Let cool slightly; put in blender and make into puree. This should make about 2 cups (480 mL) puree.
Berry Puree: To make berry purees, rinse berries, drain and put in a blender and blend until the consistency of thick puree. Most berries do not need to be cooked. Salmonberries and highbush cranberries have larger seeds and should be put through a sieve after blending to remove seeds.
Drying Puree and Fruit Leather:
Line a cookie sheet — 12 x 17 inches (30 x 42 cm) — with plastic wrap. This size cookie sheet holds approximately 2 cups (480 mL) of puree. Spread puree or fruit leather even over the plastic but do not push it completely to the sides. Leave a bit of plastic showing for easy removal. Place on a card table or picnic table in the hot sun to dry. If the plastic is bigger than the cookie sheet and extends up the sides, anchor it with clothes pins so it will not flop down and cover the edges of the leather. Puree should dry in the sun six to eight hours. The heat of the sun and the humidity make drying time variable.
Puree and fruit leather may be dried in an oven set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celsius. Too high a heat will disintegrate the plastic. Leave the oven door ajar so moisture can escape. It takes about six hours in the oven.
To make sure the fruit leather is completely dried, pull from the plastic wrap or touch to see if the fruit leather is ‘tacky.’ Purees without sugar will be much drier and more brittle. IF it is not completely dry it will mold during storage. When the fruit leather becomes too dry, it will crack and crumble and won’t roll, but it is still good to eat…call it fruit chips.
Storing Puree and Fruit Leather
Roll fruit leather loosely in plastic wrap and store in the cupboard. To store puree without sugar for other uses, break it into small pieces and store in plastic bags in a cool, dry place or in the freezer.
Rose hip powder may be made by crushing dried puree with a rolling pin until it is fine enough to suit you. This may be stored in small jars in a cool, dry place. It is good to sprinkle over cereal and to include in pancakes and other dishes.
Rose Hip and Blueberry Fruit Leather
Combine 1 cup (240 mL) rose hip puree and 1 cup (240 mL) blueberry puree. Add 2 tablespoons (30 mL) honey and spread on plastic wrap. Dry as for fruit leather. The dominant flavor in this fruit leather is rose hips. If you like, you can change the proportions to have more blueberry flavor.
Salmonberry Fruit Leather
Combine 2 cups (480 mL) salmonberry puree (put through sieve to remove large seeds) and 2 tablespoons (30 mL) honey. Spread on plastic wrap and dry as for fruit leather.
Rhubarb and Strawberry Fruit Leather
Combine 1 cup (240 mL) rhubarb puree and 1 cup (240 mL) strawberry puree. Strawberries may be fresh, frozen or frozen with sugar added. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons (23 mL) honey, unless you use frozen strawberries with sugar already added. Spread on plastic wrap and dry as for fruit leather.
Blueberry and Applesauce Fruit Leather
Combine 1 cup (240 mL) blueberry puree and 1 cup (240 mL) unsweetened applesauce. Add 1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey and spread on plastic wrap. Dry as for fruit leather. This makes a tart fruit leather, so if you sweeten it, add one more tablespoon (15 mL) of honey.
Rose Hip Fruit Leather
Combine 2 cups (480 mL) rose hip puree and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon juice. If the rose hips were not extremely ripe, add 1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey. Spread on plastic wrap and dry as for fruit leather.
Combine 2 cups (480 mL) rhubarb puree and 3 tablespoons (45 mL) sugar. Spread on plastic wrap and dry as for fruit leather.