Saturday, June 30, 2012

Drying fruits and vegetables

I remember years ago we planted about an acre of tomatoes.  They were sold as sun-dried tomatoes and were worth quite a lot of money.  How did we do it?  We set up large tables and put plywood on them.  We lifted up one end by about 6 inches so the wood was angled.  We then put a sheet on top of the wood.  We cut the tomatoes in half and laid them on the sheet.  We sprinkled salt on top of the tomatoes.  We then put another sheet on top to keep the bugs off.  Every day we would turn the tomatoes over.  I remember it took at least a week for the tomatoes to dry.  They sure were good! 

Our next door neighbors are out of town.  Their delicious Mission fig tree (the black figs) is ripe now.  There won't be any figs left by the time they return as the birds will have attacked the tree and eaten every last fig!  So they told us we can pick as many as we want.  The problem with figs is if you pick them you have to do something with them instantly.  If you pick them and put them into a bucket and wait a couple hours before processing them you will have a pile of mush and a bunch of little fruit gnats will be all over them.  Then the figs just get given to the animals.  So I needed to think of something to do with this abundance of figs. 

Figs are a great crop.  They will grow wild along watercourses and are easy to grow just about anywhere.  The fruit is extremely sweet and can be used when you have a sweet tooth.  They are also high in calories, which is always important when looking at ways to sustain yourself. 

I didn't really want to make fig newtons today.  I knew I was going to heat up the kitchen in the afternoon making noodles for dinner but to keep the oven going for a long time just wasn't in the cards.  Instead I decided we were going to dry the figs.  Not wanting to use electricity to dry them, I figured I'd just dry them outside.  I used to have a nice drying rack with many shelves on it.  The entire contraption was covered with a window screen mesh to let air flow through but keep the bugs out.  I don't know what happened to my drying rack.  Either I lent it and can't remember who I lent it to or it got borrowed by someone who forgot to tell me they borrowed it.  Either way the drying rack is nowhere to be found. 

I'm not really happy with the rack I rigged together today but it works.  I took a tray out of my dehydrator and placed the figs on it.  I then wrapped the tray in cheese cloth and used big binder clips to hold it all together.  I then used paracord and tied the cord to one clip, threw the cord over the clothesline, then tied the end to the other clip.  I got it balanced well so the tray of figs isn't tipping over.  I made up five trays like this.  There are enough figs to fill 20 or 30 racks so while this is working it's not enough if I needed the figs to help sustain us.  The figs are out in the hot breeze - high of 90 with 10 mile per hour wind gusts.  It's perfect weather for drying fruits and vegetables. 

If I'm using any vegetable and I only use a part of the vegetable I automatically cut up the rest and dry it.  Having these outdoor, electricity free drying racks makes that easy and is another step toward self sufficiency. 

1 comment:

  1. I am so envious! I love, love figs. I just planted my first tree this year and know it will be a year or two before I can start harvesting. My grandmother made fig preserves and they were the best! It is one of my fondest childhood memories. When we would visit she would always give me some jars to take back home with us. Good luck with your dehydrating!