Drying fruit is an excellent way to preserve the harvest from your backyard garden, and makes a delicious snack for months to come. Unlike frozen fruit, jams, and preserves, dried fruit is a convenient take-along snack that stays in prime condition for months. And it’s easy to make, by simply cleaning and slicing the fresh fruit and popping it into a countertop dehydrator for a few hours. Making high quality dried fruit with a long shelf life requires proper preparation and favorable storage conditions. Below, we’ll discuss the best way to store dried fruit, but first, a quick note on fruit preparation.
For the best flavor, start with fresh fruit at the peak of ripeness. Wash and dry it. Remove any blemishes. Then, slice the fruit into approximately equal-size pieces. It’s only necessary to peel fruits with skins that you wouldn’t eat when fresh. Those with edible skins can be left intact.
Slice large fruits like apples, pears, and peaches into quarter-inch or half-inch thick slices. Smaller fruits like figs and strawberries may be simply quartered or left whole. Puncture small, thick skinned fruit, like blueberries, with a skewer to give moisture an escape route. Lay out the pieces in single layers on dehydrator trays.
Follow the food dehydrator manufacturer’s instructions on drying time and temperature. In general, using lower heat for a longer time produces a more consistent finished product.
As the fruit shrinks and wrinkles develop, check it periodically for readiness. It’s finished when the texture is leathery and no longer sticky. If you cut into them, they should not appear juicy. Mostly, fruit doesn’t become crispy or brittle when it’s finished, as it still retains about 20 percent moisture. When it’s ready, turn off the machine and allow the fruit to cool completely before storing.
When it first comes out of the dehydrator, the dried fruit will include some pieces that are drier and others that are still slightly moist. Eliminate this inconsistency by conditioning the fruit for a couple of weeks before placing it in long term storage. Pack it loosely into canning jars or zipper seal bags, and place the containers in a cool, dry area.
Give the containers a gentle shake daily to keep the pieces from sticking together. During this time, the dry pieces absorb excess moisture from the moist pieces. After ten days, inspect for signs of moisture condensation. If any cloudiness appears on the walls of the container, cycle the fruit through the dehydrator once again. If not, proceed to long term storage.
Use proper storage containers
Ideal containers for storing dried fruit are airtight to prevent spoilage from unclear moisture. Ideal containers are also clear, so the produce is easy to monitor. Freezer bags, canning jars, and vacuum seal bags are all excellent choices. Smaller, single serving sizes are best, as they limit exposure of unused portions.
Pack the fruit snugly in the containers without breaking it up. Then label each container with the contents and the date and move it to the storage location.
Ideal storage conditions
Dry fruit stores best in cool, dry, dark locations, away from potential intrusion by insects or rodents. At 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the fruit will remain shelf stable for up to a year. At 80 degrees, it lasts half that time. Excessive light exposure will cause the fruit to fade and could affect the integrity of plastic containers. If plastic bags are used, place the bags in sturdy metal tins or other durable containers to eliminate light and protect them from pests.
For extended storage, store the fruit in the freezer, where it’ll last (nearly) indefinitely. Store partially used containers in the fridge or freezer until they’re used up.
Monitor for spoilage
Plan on using up your dried fruit within a year. When adding successive batches to the stored stock, be sure to rotate the supply. Place the most recently dried fruit in the back, with the older product toward the front, so it’ll be used first.
Regularly check the stored supply to ensure that it’s still viable. Watch for moisture condensation, color loss, or mold formation inside the sealed bags. Pull any bags that show signs of moisture and use those first (as long as they haven’t spoiled). If mold is present, or if there is an “off” smell, dispose of it. Other symptoms of spoilage include off color, lack of flavor, or hardness. If there’s any doubt, don’t consume it.
When you grow your own fruits and veggies, you want to enjoy them to the fullest. Drying is one of the oldest ways to preserve fruits for year-round use. By preparing them properly and storing them in the best possible conditions, you’ll be able to savor the flavor any time.
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