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Learn how to dehydrate fruit to keep your summer harvest all year long. The one thing as sure as sun in the summer time is ripe berries, and berry juice stained fingers, mouths, and tongues. Because no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to eat berries without leaving some kind of evidence behind… and I can always tell when my kids have helped themselves to a snack or two straight from the bush.
We're blessed on our homestead to have raspberries, blueberries, and a plethora of blackberries. Blackberries are actually listed as a noxious weed here because they grow that well. They line our roads and fences, creep and crawl over logs, and make themselves a nuisance anywhere they can. But we put up with them because they're sweet fruit is just about as good as you can get. And a free food source is something to be taken advantage of, can I get an amen?
You guys know my love of canning. I might be addicted putting things into Mason jars. Might be. Maybe, okay, yes, totally. I love to make blueberry jam (no pectin, low sugar varieties), freeze those darlings for muffins, pies, or just an ice cold treat on a hot day. I adore that canning leaves me with shelf-stable food.
Canned berries don't travel so good in lunch boxes or hikes, and frozen and then thawed berries aren't friendly to just munching on. In comes dehydration. I confess, I didn't dehydrate at all until a couple of years ago.
I tried dehydrating blueberries about 10 years ago. After three days straight, I still had half shriveled, but not dehydrated berries. I gave up and didn't dehydrate again for a long time. Until I found this course and e-book on Dehydrating by Traditional Cooking School by Gnowfglins.
Dehydration is an excellent way to preserve your fruit, especially berries for year round use. It's shelf stable and can be eaten as is. It's light, meaning easy to pack and shove into pockets. And you can use it to make delicious candies, treats, cakes, and breads. My baking side just got all kinds of excited! Oh, and dehydration, when done at a low temperature, makes it a raw food, retaining almost all of the nutrients. Super cool, huh?
If you plan on doing much dehydrating, I recommend getting an actual dehydrator. Can you use your oven with the door propped open? Yes, but you can't control the temperature and then you can't cook in your oven. Plus, if you have little ones, leaving your oven door open isn't probably the safest thing.
I have a Nesco square dehydrator I purchased two years ago. It's quiet and gets the job done. I haven't had any problems with it and have run it close to a week straight when doing cherries and then a batch of blueberries. This is the more economical option and I highly recommend getting these screens for sticky fruit and fruit leather.
If you plan on doing a lot of dehydrating, you'll want to consider the Excalibur dehydrators. My readers have told me it is the workhorse of dehydrators and well worth the investment. But, it is more expensive than the Nesco. However, the air blows from the back of the unit, instead of the top, making it more efficient. This is the cheapest deal I've found for an Excalibur dehydrator under $100.
When you're dehydrating berries, you need to use one simple trick to cut hours and days off your dehydrating time. You need to check your berries. Do what to my berries? Checking is merely piercing the skin so that the moisture can evaporate more quickly. Berries are mostly water, after all. Checking should be used with blueberries, cranberries, and grapes, or any other similar type fruit. I pit my cherries before dehydrating, so I'm technically checking them when I pit them.
1. Poke each berry with a pin. Take a safety pin or sewing pin and poke a hole in each berry. If you're doing a small amount this might not take very much time, but if you're doing tray fulls, this is going to take forevva.
2. Boil/steam your berries. Briefly boil or steam your berries until they've split their skins, but not enough to actually cook them.
3. Freeze your berries. Simply toss your berries into the freezer for a few hours. It will rupture the cells and make you good to go. Middle of summer and no work on my part (okay, besides the harvesting) making this my pick! And yours right?
After you've checked your berries, spread them out on your dehydrating trays. For sticky berries or fruit, I highly recommend the silicone mats for easy clean up. You want to the berries or fruit to be evenly spaced so they dehydrate at the same rate.
With our blueberries we have several different varieties, which means different sizes of berries. I recommend putting the smaller berries on one tray and the larger ones on another. Which I didn't the first time and had to manually separate them out as the smaller ones were done before the bigger ones, so save yourself some time here.
Turn on your dehydrator and let it do its thing. The fruit setting on mine is 135 degrees.
Even with checking, berries take quite awhile to fully dehydrate. My cherries took 48 hours. My small blueberries were done at about 30 hours, where as the larger ones took 48 hours.
If you're not sure if your fruit is fully dehydrated, you can sample a few. If you feel liquid, then put them back in. Some of my smaller berries got hard, so I knew they were fully done. You want chewy berries, but not overly sticky or wet. Otherwise, they”ll start to mold.
Store dehydrated berries in an air tight container in a dark cool place for optimal shelf life. Use in homemade breads, muffins, granola, candy, or just plain old eating! Be warned, they're kind of addicting.
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Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.