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September 13, 2005: Fun with fruit

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Several weeks ago I got it into my head that it would be really neat to be able to dry our own fruit. I'm not entirely sure why I suddenly decided this would be a cool idea, beyond the fact that at the rate our trees are going, eventually we are going to have fruit coming out our ears and finding a way to preserve it (short of canning it, which I also intend to do, but I also recognize that canning is an extremely time and labor intensive process) would probably be a good thing. Or rather, assuming that the apple tree actually does more than put out a few piddly white flowers, and the peach tree can churn out enough peaches that even the birds can not eat them all before I can get to them, we will have fruit coming out our ears.

I started poking around online looking at prices and comparing the different features available on Amazon.com, but I wasn't entirely ready to commit to that kind of financial investment without getting some actual word-of-mouth input from someone who has actually *used* one. But then the church had its annual barbeque and silent auction, and lo and behold someone donated a food dehydrator to the cause. We didn't actually attend the auction, but they set it all up beforehand (for precisely this reason) and I scribbled in a $10 bid, figuring maybe I might get lucky. And what do you know, I did.

So far I think it is one of the best $10 we have ever spent. It's a larger, slower model, since it only has a heating unit and no fan to speed the drying process along. And it does have the annoying quality of being too large (the trays, at least) to fit into either the dishwasher or the sink, so cleaning the trays is a major hassle. But it also has five trays, which hold a phenomenal amount of sliced bananas, or six apples, cored and sliced thin, and more importantly, I have finally found a source of dried fruit that I actually *like*.

We picked it up before we left for DragonCon and after we tried it out on a few different types of fruits (dried pears, by the way, are *nasty*), we decided to start a round-the-clock drying effort, and managed to produce a large pile of dried apples and bananas, which I then divided into single serving Ziploc bags for us to take on our trip. This turned out to be a better idea than I'd imagined � not only because United no longer provides free meals on their longer trips, but also because a little bag of dried fruit makes a far healthier snack, and an easier one to procure when you only have a short period of time between session and there are several thousand nerds in various forms of costuming between you and the nearest source of food. Plus, apples I've dried myself are really quite good. I've never been a big fan of the dried fruit you can buy in stores because it tends to have this squishy, rubbery texture that I find really quite revolting. But these I can dry until they almost snap, and until they have a very satisfying chewy quality. I think the dried bananas are foul and disgusting, but Richard really likes them, so we each had our own stash and it worked out really well.

Since we've returned from DragonCon I've been intent on developing a decent stockpile of dried fruit for snacking purposes, as well as to take on trips. It certainly doesn't hurt that the last time we were at Costco they had huge bags of bananas and apples for really cheap. It does take a little bit of time and effort to get the fruit prepared � the bananas don't need any pretreatment, but they do have an annoying tendency to adhere to the trays, which means once they're done someone has to then pry every single chip by hand from the plastic mesh, and the apples have to be dipped in a preservative (ascorbic acid or lemon juice) to prevent that icky taste that can develop when they start to turn brown from exposure to air. However, I've been doing a little experimenting in the last few days, to test a few theories. I've discovered that leaving the peel on the apples doesn't change the taste or texture, so that's at least one less step in the process. I've also been dabbling with flavoring. I did one tray of apples sprinkled liberally with cinnamon and once they'd dried and set a few days, those turned out marvelously, and I am pondering trying a few with a mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice (and a little sugar for sweetness) to try to duplicate an apple pie sort of flavor. We're also realizing that eventually we're going to have a lot of citrus fruit from the tangelo and grapefruit trees, so at some point in the near future I'm going to try candying a few test batches, to see how those turn out.

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