The other day, a coworker generously shared a piece of homemade strawberry fruit leather; it was sublime. Trader Joe's might sell these things for a quarter, but the descriptor 'leather' is apt. A well prepared nugget of dried fruit is a treat. Thanks Fred, I'm not worthy.
The light bulb went off. Scanning Ebay and Amazon for a dehydrator was my first move. Way too expensive for an initial attack. I read these devices operate at 85°F to ca. 100+°F and require a fan, presumably to wick away the moisture as the fruit dries. Seemed easy enough.
To the basement! I purchased some of those nearly tasteless California strawberries for my pilot runs and used the setup shown in the image. An inexpensive 800W hot plate on a low setting with some heat diffuser/spacer and a tray holding the fruit. I set the hotplate to get a specific surface temperature and placed a box fan beside it to drive off the moisture. Some temperature measuring devices were placed about and I was ready to evaluate parameters.
The fruit leather is an ambitious target. I'll attempt that later. For now, dried strawberries. Why not images of the final product? From two large containers of strawberries, there are none left. I'll post them later, although they don't look particularly special.*
So far, the parameters for strawberries (I'll be editing this as refinements become available):
• fruit should be cut to maximize surface area and cut uniformly (slices seem to be good).
• drying surface temperature, 85-100°F, too hot and they get dark spots
• box fan, slow speed
• drying time, ca. 24 hours, seems flexible
• for fruit that can discolor prior to dehydrating, e.g., apples, pears, etc. I've used a couple treatments. 1. a bath of lemon juice and water is the most reliable. 2. I've also used (for apples) a bath of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Gives the fruit an interesting flavor.
... more to come
[note to self: The hot plate idea is ok, but the heat is localized on the bottom. If I wanted a vertical stack of trays, I'd need a vertical heat source with a fan, i.e., a space heater!!!, to the thrift store. 24-Jun-08: Just scored an inexpensive space heater with a large range of heat settings. I'll be trying this with a stacked set of drying trays. Results to follow.]
My new improved dehydrator. It's awesome.
*rant: I detest the phrase 'food porn' and urge this disgusting phrase be abolished from food bloggers' vernacular. I'm no prude, but even the casual association of something as special as food and porn is wrong.