It happens pretty regularly that after a pick with Not Far From The Tree you wind up with more fruit than you are capable of eating fresh. This is where preserving comes in handy, making jams, chutneys, and preserving whole fruit in syrup. This allows us to enjoy the non storage fruits of summer all year round. Though jams and chutneys are great, in my mind the best way to preserve fruit and keep it unadulterated by other ingredients is to dry it. It might also be the easiest way to preserve!
Two summers ago, when I was overwhelmed by my five cherry tomato plants I tried out a simple set up for sun drying. I used a large roasting pan with a roasting rack in the bottom. I set the cherry tomatoes on top of the rack and then covered it all with cheese cloth to prevent flies from getting at the fruit. I then set this out on a south facing balcony and waited a couple of days for the fruit to dry. This worked to varying degrees. Sometimes I would get nice dry tomatoes, other times I would find a little bit of white mould growing on top. I think this was because of a lack of airflow.
This year I decided to build a slightly more complex, but still very simple, sun dryer that I would install in my skylight. While I do have plans to occupy the entire skylight with a sun dryer I figured I should do a smaller trial project first.
I built the sun dryer out of 1″ x 2″ lumber and window screen material. I made two squares out of the 1″ x 2″ lumber. I then stretched the screen material across one square and screwed the other square on top of it, this sandwiched the screen between the two squares and held it tightly stretched. I made another square identical to this one so that they can be stacked on top of one another with the fruit inside. This allows air to flow freely around all of the fruit. I also set a fan beside the drying tray to add extra air flow.
The first fruit that I wanted dry was apricots. I love dried apricots and enjoy their versatility in cooking. To dry apricots you simply cut them in half and push the skin of the apricot inwards which will move the apricot flesh outwards. This is called popping the back of the apricot and will allow it to dry better. I then set them out on the screen to dry. The apricots dried nicely and have very good flavour, but they oxidized in the air causing them to brown. I later learned that to avoid this you should dip the apricots in lemon or lime juice. This will allow the apricots to keep their bright orange colour.
I also tried out drying some tomatoes. They came out very nice without any sign of mould. Now that this small sun dryer has proven itself to work I’ll build a bigger one in order to help me find uses for my much larger tomato crop that I have this year, about 80 times larger than the five cherry tomato plants I had two years ago. Heres a picture of my tomatoes to give you an idea.