Tuesday, August 11, 2009

All dried out

After weeks of trolling craigslist ads, sending several unrequited inquiries, and ultimately shelling out $25 to a dubious-looking man on break from his clerk duties at a back-alley Cash-and-Carry, I am now the proud owner of a 3-tray Ronco food dehydrator.

Not only does the gleaming appliance add a futuristic cheer to my kitchen, it has also chivalrously opened the door for me to a new world of food preservation. I think I'm still in the "experimentation" phase. The dehydrator came accompanied by an atrociously written, but nonetheless encouraging booklet of instructions and recipes. Included is a chart listing a diverse array of fruits and vegetables, along with corresponding pre-drying treatments (see below) and recommended drying times.

So far, I've had the most luck with bananas. I procured several pounds for free (at the aforementioned Free Market), and first tried slicing the fruit into thin rounds and drying those to brittle chips (about two days in the hopper). The chips were certainly much reduced in weight, but almost painful to bite. I preferred the later method: slicing the pieces a little thicker, and letting them dry just a day and a half. The result: chewy, leathery, sweet goodness.

Also successful: zucchini chips! Sprinkle slices with salt and let dry for two days. The result: crispy, salty, healthy snackness.

Less successful: apricots (not ripe enough to begin with), apples (I need to get my hands on a corer, so as not to waste 25% of the fruit in preparation), and watermelon. This last one occurred under the direction of my housemate, and after four suspenseful days, the pink mass had reduced to a dense, sticky pillow that went rancid before anyone dared try it. I suppose there's a reason the Ronco manual doesn't contain a listing for melon.

What I have yet to master are the pre-drying treatments. Suggested treatments include: steam-blanching (length of time varies), dipping in salt, honey, or lemon juice, or using a sodium- or sulphur-based syrup. The treatments allegedly preserve the color and flavor of the dried food. But let me tell you, I tried dipping those apricots in lemon juice, and they still looked and tasted like wrinkled sh*t. On a recent visit to the neighborhood Safeway, I picked up what looks like a spice jar of magical mystery fruit-preservation powder, and I have yet to try it out, but the branches on my backyard plum trees are cracking from the weight of the ripening fruit, and harvest time will soon be upon us . . .

Meanwhile, future non fruit-related projects might include: dried hummus, chili, and tomato sauce. Or, ooh, guacamole. Any other suggestions?