Sun drying fruits and vegetables is easier than you think. Here’s the step-by-step guide for first-timers.
I’ve always wanted to sun dry my own fruits and vegetables, namely apricots, tomatoes, and apples. And I’m not talking about drying said fruits and vegetables in a low-set oven or a dehydrator – I mean in the actual sun, so that they are literally sun-dried. Try it yourself with this simple guide.
Sun drying foods is the oldest method of food preservation. In fact, it is documented to have been used in Egypt and Mesopotamia as far back as 4,000 B.C. It is an alternative to canning or freezing, and it is both safe and easy to do.
Sun Drying Conditions
I’ve learned that sun drying is a picky process – it is only a success under select conditions: dry, clear, hot, and breezy weather. This is the climate in Southwestern states and the central plains of the U.S. and Canada. The rest of us, however, have to wait for the perfect three to seven days when we know the stars will align and we have 85+ degree heat and relatively low humidity. Unfortunately, this means many of us won’t ever have the perfect weather to participate in sun drying and a food dehydrator or oven will have to do.
11 Steps to Sun Drying Fruits and Veggies
Fruits are best for sun drying because they have a naturally high sugar and acid content. Vegetables are low in sugar and acid and thus are at greater risk for spoilage. This doesn’t mean you should avoid drying your vegetables, it simply means you should take extra care of them in process. Here’s how to prepare for sun drying:
- Choose the fruits and vegetables you want to sun dry. In the same way you should only cook with a wine you’d enjoy drinking, only choose fruits and vegetables you’d enjoy eating, particularly when it comes to quality. This means you should start with fresh, ripe, and clean fruits and vegetables, not ones that are rounding their last leg and looking in less-than-stellar shape.
- Wash and pit the fruits and vegetables. Depending on the size of the fruit or vegetable in question, you may have to cut it. For large tomatoes, this would mean slicing them lengthwise into thin pieces and for apricots, simply cutting them in half or fourths. The key is keep their sizes uniform so that they dry at an equal rate. For vegetables, it helps to slice them very thinly so that they dry quickly and thus avoid spoilage.
- Pre-treat fruits and vegetables. Besides cutting and pitting the fruits and vegetables, there is a treatment process. Light-colored fruits, such as apples, pears, and apricots should be soaked for five minutes in a lemon juice and water solution to prevent browning while drying. To avoid spoilage and browning of vegetables, such as tomatoes, you can add red wine vinegar or salt to them. You could also steam blanch vegetables to halt some of their active enzymes.
- It’s time to lay them out and start the actual sun drying! The most important equipment here is the drying rack. Small wood slats, bamboo, grill grates, and stainless steel screen mesh are sufficient for the racks. You can also use cake racks or build small wooden frames covered with cheesecloth. The key here is that the racks cannot be solid, since air has to circulate around the drying food. Meanwhile, avoid grates coated with cadmium or zinc to prevent them oxidizing and leaving toxic residues on the food.
- Place the cut and treated fruits and vegetables on the racks in a singly layer. Put the racks in an area that receives direct sunlight and a good breeze. Avoid an area that is near animals, traffic pollution, insects, and dust. Place cheesecloth or netting around the racks to protect them anyway.
- Turn the fruits and vegetables once per day and be sure to bring the drying trays indoors at night to prevent moisture from returning to the food.
- Place a small fan near the drying tray to promote air circulation.
- Wait between three days and one week for the fruits and vegetables to fully dry. Transfer the racks to a shady area for the last day or two to prevent burning.
- Let the trays sit indoors, allowing the foods to cool.
- Place the dried goods in a sealed container and store for one week, shaking them daily to help distribute moisture.
Optional: To further pasteurize the sun-dried foods, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and let them bake in the oven at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Once finished and then cooled to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container.