Diet and Food Resilience

to live in a desert). In addition, dirt and flies can
be a problem. Oven drying uses a lot of energy
and produces inferior, overcooked dried foods,
when it works at all. Often it burns the produce.
Ovens are not designed to run at temperatures
low enough to dry food reliably.
The modern electric dehydrator with its heat
source and fan is actually cheaper than either
canning or freezing by the time you consider,
properly amortized, the costs of equipment and
supplies. I believe that, these days, the electric
dehydrator is the place to start learning about

drying. Then one might move up or back to more
natural methods, if desired. (A solar dehydrator, for example.) I use an Excalibur dehydrator
for most purposes and strongly recommend it. I
suspect, though, that much of the drying done
by the American pioneers involved just hanging
produce near the wood stove, and those with a
wood stove today might explore that possibility.
Many books, especially older books, spend a lot
of time talking about pretreatments of produce to
be dried with metabisulfites, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), or lemon juice in order to prevent brown-

Drying Prune Plums (and Figs, Apricots, Peaches, and Nectarines)
Prune plums are plums of varieties that are
especially good for drying. They are also my
favorite plum varieties for fresh eating. (‘Italian’,
‘Brooks’, ‘Stanley’, and ‘Imperial Epineause’ are
some good prune plum varieties.) I dry prune
plums by picking or shaking them off the trees,
then collecting them in monolayers in flat
cardboard trays (such as are discarded by grocery
stores after they remove the six-packs of soda).
The plums will shake off the tree when they are
ready to ripen, but will still be hard enough at the
shake-off stage to be quite resistant to bruising.
I’ve harvested immense amounts by shaking
the trees every two or three days and collecting
until the harvest is over. I let the plums ripen to
perfection indoors, examining them daily. It’s
easiest to tell prime ripeness by squeezing each
plum very gently.
To process for drying, I rinse the plums (if
necessary), cut them in half, and flip the seed out
with my finger. Then I pop the backs as I place

each half in the dehydrator (cut side up). “Pop
the backs” simply means pressing against the
skin side of each half to turn the half inside out.
No pretreatments are necessary. The optimum
temperature for drying is 135°F. The drying takes
place from the cut surface, not through the skin.
So it isn’t necessary to turn the plum halves over,
and they don’t stick to the drying surface.
The same process is used to dry halved figs
and freestone varieties of apricots, peaches, and
nectarines. All other fruits require additional
work to remove cores or seeds and/or to slice
for drying. Sliced fruit takes much more space
in the dehydrator than fruit that can be dried
in halves. And sliced fruit must be turned over
piece by piece part way through the drying; plus
it sticks to the drying surface. So if you love dried
fruit but are as resistant to processing labor as I
am, look first to prune plums, figs, and freestone
varieties of apricots, peaches, and nectarines.


Resilient Gardener final pages.indd 87

8/24/10 10:26 AM

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