One of Sophia's project for her 4-H food preservation projects this year was dried fruit. She competed at the county fair and won a grand champion ribbon plus the opportunity to compete at the state level.
Sophia meeting one-on-one with the judge at the county level
On August 29th, Sophia went to the Minnesota State Fair and participated in a conference judging session about food preservation. She prepared a speech ahead of time and had practiced what she wanted to say. When she got there, she was able to draw from her speech as she did her presentation.
Sophia in her conference judging group at the State Fair.
After her group was done with the judging process, they each received ribbons and were told to return at noon to see if their project won the grand champion award.
We spent some time exploring the State Fair and enjoying lunch in the 4-H cafeteria on the second floor of the 4-H building. Then we went back to the food preservation area to see how her project did. There was a purple ribbon sticker on her name card! She won the grand champion ribbon!
In part, this is what she shared with the judge and the other three competitors with whom she was grouped:
For my project I decided to focus on dried fruit. I learned about the health benefits of dried fruit, the history of it, and how to dry fruit.
I dried six types of fruit – three of which were grapes (red, green, and purple).
Sophia's project at the State Fair.
So, why would you want to dried fruit? Dried fruit taste good, provides concentrated energy, and helps you stay full for a long period of time.
There are a lot of ways to eat dried fruit. You can eat it plain, serve it with a variety of dips, or try them in different recipes.
People tend to dry fruit more than vegetables because vegetables lose a lot of their flavor whereas dried fruits do not. Vegetables – compared to fruits – also lose a lot of their vitamins in the drying process. The acidity of fruits preserves the vitamins better.
Three types of fruit that Sophia dried.
Dried fruit also has a lot of health benefits because they retain most of the nutritional value of fresh fruits.
Dried fruits are a good source of fiber and potassium. This can help decrease a person’s risk of getting heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Dried fruits provide the same amount of fiber as fresh fruit. For example, one tablespoon of raisins contains the same fiber as 27 grapes.
Sophia weighed all the fruit before drying it
so she can see the amount of water in each type of fruit.
Despite the positive benefits, there are some things to be aware of about dried fruit:
Dried fruits should be eaten in moderation because they contain many more calories per serving than fresh fruits.
Sophia slicing pineapple rings.
If you aren’t drying own fruit, be careful about what you purchase at the store. Some dried fruits contain sugars added in processing which increase its calorie content.
So, how long has dried fruit been around?
The earliest recorded mention of dried fruit can be found in Mesopotamia tablets dating around 1700 BC which contain the oldest known recipes.
When fresh foods were abundant, our hunting-and-gathering ancestors would dry their excess food so that they had something to eat when the winter months came and food was scarce.
Although we are still drying food thousands of years later, the way we are doing that is different.
First, select fresh and fully-ripened fruit.
Sophia slicing bananas.
Wash and clean it to remove dirt. Throw away any fruit that is decayed, bruised, or moldy. All of these things can affect the food that is being dried.
Pretreat fruit to help keep the light-colored fruit from darkening during drying and storage.
Placing bananas in water with Fruit Fresh.
When I dried the fruit, I put it in water with Fruit Fresh which is antioxidant mixture. It is not as effective as ascorbic acid, but you can get it easily at the grocery store.
Cut peeled fruit and then soak it in the solution for ten to 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.
Put the pretreated fruit on the trays in single layers. Dry at 140 degrees F in a dehydrator. The length of time needed to dry fruits will depend on the size of the pieces being dried, humidity, and the amount of air circulation in the dehydrator.
Thinner slices and smaller pieces will dry more quickly than larger, thicker pieces or whole fruits.
Fruit should be dry enough to prevent bacterial growth and spoilage. To test foods for dryness, remove a few pieces and let cool to room temperature. Squeeze a handful of the fruit. If no moisture is left on your hand and pieces spring apart when released, they are dry.
When drying is complete, some pieces will be moister than others due to their size and placement during drying. Grapes and pineapple are done when you squeeze them gently and there is very little “squish” left. Bananas are done when you bend them and they are not pliable.
Conditioning is a process used to evenly distribute the little moisture that is left in the fruit throughout all of the pieces. This reduces the chance of spoilage, especially from mold.
To condition, place cooled, dried fruit loosely in large plastic or glass containers, about two-thirds full. Cover and store in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place for about four to 10 days.
Stir or shake containers daily to separate pieces. If beads of moisture form inside the container, return the food to drying trays for further drying, and then repeat the conditioning process.
Pack cooled dried food in small amounts in dry glass jars (preferably dark) or in moisture- and vapor-proof freezer containers, boxes, or bags. You want to pack dehydrated fruit in small amounts, because each time a container is reopened, the food is exposed to moisture and air that cause spoilage and affect food quality.
Store in a cool, dry, dark place. Dried fruit can be stored for one year at 60 degrees F but for only six months at 80 degrees F.
In closing, if you haven’t tried drying fruit, I encourage you to try it. It’s a great snack and a different way to enjoy fruit.