Spring and early summer signal the start of a fruitful season in the Pacific Northwest with yields of strawberries, pears, cherries, apples, blueberries and more. This bounty is a survivalist’s dream, especially when dried. The versatility of dried fruit is limitless—add it to oatmeal, breakfast cereal, yogurt, trail mix, or eat it on its own as a snack. Drying fruit is simple, even without a dehydrator, and it can last at least six months once dried. Dehydrated fruit offers a tasty way to get essential vitamins and minerals, it’s an excellent option for hiking and camping, too.
The most common foods on the trail are often packaged, ultra-light weight, dehydrated meals that are full of preservatives and added sugars. For a more nutritious and affordable version, try drying fruit at home.
- Choose Your fruit
Nearly any fruit can be dehydrated, so choice of fruit comes down mostly to preference. Some commonly dried fruits are mangos, pineapple, apricots, prunes, raisins, and papaya—but the list can go on and on. Keep in mind that some fruits will be treated differently or require more work: for example, apples have to be cored and peeled, whereas blueberries need virtually no prep. We recommend working with apples, strawberries, or bananas to begin with because they’re affordable, easy to find in grocery stores, and strawberries are currently in season.
Tip: The riper the fruit, the better for dehydration. Ripe fruit has more sugar, which means it will be sweeter and retain more flavor when dried.
- Set Your Oven Temp
Do not overlook this step. Oven temperature is critical—too high, and your fruit will burn, too low and you’ll be left waiting for days. If you have an oven gauge that can measure the exact temp, check it to be sure you are within 130-160 degrees (F). Thinner cut fruits should be cooked closer to the lower end of the spectrum, while temps should be higher for thicker cut fruits or plump, round berries, like blueberries. If your oven has “hot spots” or tends to cook unevenly, rotate the pans and stagger the fruit as it cooks.
- Wash and Prep
Wash your chosen fruit and pat completely dry using a towel. Peel bananas, apples, and remove any spots and blemishes, as well as the tops and less ripe parts of the strawberries. Core the apples and take off the ends of the bananas. Slice the fruit into thin pieces (about 1/4-1/8 inches in diameter) taking care to make them as uniform in size as possible so they cook evenly. Be sure not to make slices too thin, or the fruit will burn.
Set up three baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Spread each kind of sliced fruit on a pan, making sure to lay out the pieces with enough room so they are not crowding each other or touching.
Tip: Mix equal parts lemon juice and water (1:1 ratio) in a small bowl and lightly glaze the fruit with a trace amount of the mixture. You can also put this solution in a small spray bottle and mist it on the slices. This helps the bananas and apples from browning and keeps the strawberries’ color bright. Keep an eye on the fruit in the oven though as the lemon wash also tends to crisp up thinly cut fruit.
- Mix it Up
Add some variation to your fruit, like tossing apples in cinnamon to add flavor. You can try glazing bananas with a small amount of honey, or dusting coconut sugar on the strawberries—though this does make them a bit less healthy.
Some fruit takes longer to dry than others and factors like oven temperature, slice size, and even the color of the baking sheet can make a difference in the total length of cook time. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check on your fruit every few hours, rotating pans every two-to-three hours as necessary to ensure the fruit dries evenly. About halfway through cook time you should flip your fruit to allow the pan-down side to dry completely. A general guide is as follows for the center rack in the oven:
Apples—6-8 hours, 2 rotations
Strawberries—4 hours, 2 rotations
Bananas—4-6 hours, 2 rotations
Water-dense fruits like peaches and pineapple tend to need to cook longer in order for the water to absorb. The best way to tell how long the fruit needs is by taste testing. However, fruit does need to cool for at least half an hour after the cook time before you’ll know if it’s as dry as you’d like.
Tip: If you plan to jar and store your fruit long term, you should consider conditioning it. Place the fruit in mason jars and fill about two-thirds of the way full. Screw the lid on and vigorously shake the jar, then let it rest for a day. Repeat this process for a week. You will see water in the jar if the fruit is not fully dry, meaning that it needs to go back in the oven for 30 minutes to an hour to finish drying out.
Once your fruit is done you can enjoy your labors by adding it to other recipes, like nutrition bars. Or, prep for your next camping trip by filling bags with pancake mix and dried fruit. Save it for the winter or enjoy it right away as a delicious, healthy snack.