DRYING FRUIT AND VEGETABLES IN SPAIN

IMPROVING ON THE SPANISH SUN

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe, active gardeners and authors with a combined forty years of gardening and cooking in Spain. For more than a thousand years in Spain red peppers, figs, grapes for raisins and beans have been dried in the sun especially in the hotter areas of the Costa de sol and Costa de Calida. Naturally the hotter the sun , the drier the air, the more frequent drying breezes occur and the scarcity of insects the better. Unfortunately the homes of many expatriates, and indeed Spaniards, do not have the ideal conditions including ourselves. Living in a mountain village at 400 metres we rarely have temperatures above 35degrees centigrade and nights that are pleasantly cool for us mean that drying fruits and vegetables need taking in to avoid them taking up moisture from the air. We therefore looked around for a fan operated drier that we could use all the year round whatever the weather and whenever we had seasonal harvests beyond our daily needs. We discovered the Stockli dryer shown in the photograph below. It came with three trays and a good instruction booklet. Later we purchased two more trays from Conasi who now market the dryer in Spain. The dryer can be seen on http://www.conasi.biz/ and purchased via the web page or info@conasi.biz. ‘No problem in writing in english and if you do they will reply likewise.The proprietors have pefect english.’

We have never looked back and it is a rare week when the drier is not in operation overnight several times a week drying herbs, fruits, vegetables or home made snack bars especially when we have seasonal gluts. The dried products are used for:

  • Interesting and appetising snack mixes to go with a pre dinner drink in place of tapas.
  • Energy snacks, indeed lunches, when walking in the mountains, gardening, playing tennis, fishing, touring and shopping for instance.
  • Adding to salads.
  • Storage for later use in infusions, soups, casseroles and tagine dishes.
  • Centres and decoration of chocolates.
 Fruit Dryer  Dried Fruit

What we dry, how we do it and what we use the dried products for are illustrated in the table below.

BENEFITS OF DRYING YOUR HOME GROWN PRODUCE

The benefits of drying ones own produce include the following.

  • You know they are not contaminated with residual chemicals if you have grown them naturally, ecologically and organically as described in our books ‘Growing healthy fruit in Spain’ and ‘Growing healthy vegetables in Spain’.
  • You know that what you are drying is at it’s best in terms of flavour and texture and is not affected by mould .
  • The sweet tastes are only of natural sugars from the fruit or vegetable , nothing is added.
  • No artificial colorants, flavour enhancers, flours, or sweeteners are used.
  • They have not been exposed to pollutants as can occur when sold in open containers in street markets and stores.
  • You know the age and storage conditions of the dried products.
  • Produce is dried in one day and does not have to be put in the sun for a week or more.
  • There is no exposure to insects and fungal spores.
  • A tray drier takes up little space …ours only has a diameter of 34 cms.
  • The process is very easy.

GUIDELINES FOR DRYING AND USING DRIED PRODUCE

Codes for uses of dried products in table: S = Snacks; T = Tapas; Sa = Salads; Sp = Soups; C/T = Caseroles/Tagines; D = Deserts.

What we dry: Air Temp °C Hours To dry Pre-drying preparation : Uses of dried products:
        S T Sa Sp C/T D
Butternut squash 70 6-10 Peeled, 8mm slices cut into 4cm pieces. Brush a little honey on pieces when on the drying tray or sprinkle with powdered ginger. * *     *  
Courgettes 70 6-10 Unpeeled, 8mm slices cut into 4cm pieces. To make them tastier mix equal parts of soy sauce and olive and brush very little on courgettes when on the drying tray. * *        
Leeks 70 6-10 If large cut into four lengthwise and then slice thinly. Blanch and then dry. * * * * *  
Mushrooms-wild 50 2-6 Clean well – if small leave whole – slice Large ones lengthwise.   *   * *  
Peppers 70 8-10 Cut larger peppers into 8mm strips. Small hot chilli peppers leave whole.       * *  
Tomatoes 70 7-18 Larger varieties slice into 6mm thick rings. Small cherry type slice in half and dry with cut side up. * * * * *  
Apple 70 6-10 15mm slices cut into 4cm squares or rounds. Sprinkle with powdered ginger. * * *   * *
Apricots 70 10-18 Stoned, cut in half with cut side up. * * *   * *
Cherries 70 8-12 Whole or for faster drying stoned and cut in half with cut side up. * * *     *
Figs 70 10-18 Cut in half . Dry with cut side up. * * *   * *
Grapes 70 10-18 Cut in half . Dry with cut side up. * * *   * *
Mandarins/oranges 70 8-12 Cut into 8mm slices crosswise and then cut into halves or quarters depending on the size. To make exotic sprinkle lightly with powered ginger. * * * * * *
Pears 70 6-10 15mm slices cut into 4cm squares or rounds. Sprinkle with a little powered ginger. * * *   * *
Plums 70 10-18 Cut in half and stone and dry cut site up. * * *   * *
Raspberries 70 6-10 Wiped clean and dry whole. * * *     *
Strawberries 70 9-12 Wiped clean and cut in half. Dry with cut side up. If small variety leave whole. * * *     *
Herbs such as basil, chives, coriander, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon etc 40 3-7 Wash and dry whole.     * * *  
Flowers for pot- pourri or hanging up. 40 2-4 Lay evenly out on trays.            
Seeds – tomato, squash, beans etc. to be stored for next year’s crop. 50 Depends      on size Larger seeds lay on gauze. Smaller seeds lay small squares of greaseproof paper. Always allow space for air to circulate.            

*Drying hours vary depending on how thin you slice the fruit or veg and its juiciness. NB. We also dry purchased pineapple, bananas and papaya during the winter to add variety to our snack mixes.

TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL HOME DRYING

  • Make sure your slices are equally thick for even drying.
  • Always leave spaces between the pieces of fruit or vegetables to allow air to circulate upwards.
  • Never put one layer on top of another.
  • Operate the dryer in a utility room or spare bathroom with the window open or In a covered terrace or everything will steam up.
  • Initially we sometimes dried some of the above until they were too hard (nearly breaking our teeth) and on the other hand sometimes they were still slightly moist in the middle (and went mouldy in the storage jars.) The above timings are guidelines. It is a matter of trial and error. The best test is that the dried slices are slightly pliable or biteable.
  • Store in airtight containers.
  • Above all dry things that you will like and use in a few weeks or months.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe 6 April 2007.