Do it Yourselfer #10
The transition from summer into autumn is a time of abundance in the permaculture garden. So much so that we sometimes get overwhelmed. We eat some, share some and save some.
In order to preserve this abundance we use a number of techniques, including bottling (pasteurising), fermenting, freezing and drying.
While electric dehydrators are a convenient way to dry food they use a vast amount of energy and are quite expensive to buy. The second principle of Catch and Store Energy reminds us to “make hay while the sun shines”. And being that there is plenty of sun at this time of year, solar drying makes a lot of sense. It’s also the cheapest and most natural way to preserve food.
We were fortunate to have purchased a property with a well established pear tree. It was huge, and I’ve been pruning it back gradually over the years to a more manageable size.
This year we received a huge crop. Unfortunately much of it had been damaged by parrots and the dreaded codling moth. We’ve yet to find an effective method for dealing with these, but removing fallen fruit is part of our strategy.
We’ve found that by picking up fallen and damaged fruit straight away we can still get a yield. Peal and cut away any damaged parts and cook what you can recover (as it’s usually unripe). Refrigerate, freeze or bottle to preserve it.
If you want to try solar drying, you don’t need fancy equipment to do so. You can use old fly wire screens, or a frame / mesh base with shade cloth on it to put your fruit on. The idea is that the base can breath, to speed up the drying process.
You’ll need at least two or three hot days (30ºC+ is ideal) in a row before attempting this. It’s best to get started early so you can take advantage of a full day of sun. This helps to create a leathery protective layer over the fruit, that deters insects.
I use fruit that is not quite ripe (still firm) and in good condition. With pears I peal them, cut them into quarters and core them with a small sharp knife. Then I slice them lengthways into 3-5mm thick strips. The thinner they are the quicker they dry. Lay them out closely together on the base, with a little space between them.
Put the bases out on a bench or on the roof (if convenient) in the full sun. You can use a mossie net or something similar over the top to keep the flies and birds off, but it’s not really necessary from my experience.
As the sun gets low in the sky you’ll need to either take the bases inside or cover them up with something waterproof to protect them from moisture overnight. Repeat the process the following day, or days as required, until the fruit is leathery, and moisture is not present.
You’ll find that some fruit will dry quickly and get crispy and other pieces will take longer. When stored in a jar the texture of the fruit will equalise. If you notice any condensation within the jar after you’ve stored it then you’ll need to leave it in the sun longer. If you don’t then it may rot – better too dry than not dry enough.
All the best – Richard Telford
Issue #3 of Pip Magazine
The Australian Permaculture magazine with ideas, tips, tricks and stories that’ll entertain and inspire. Check it out.
FEATURES: The Age of Food: Healthy, Sustainable Sufficient, Constructing Swales, Bamboo in Permaculture, Permafund. PROFILES: Dr. Vandana Shiva, Hugh Gravestein, Shanaka Fernando, Nat Wiseman, Claudia Echeverria, Fraser Bailey. ALSO: The many roles of fungi, Turning no-dig gardening on it’s head, House of cupboards, Compost-powered shower, Fermenting for health, Homemade cheeses, Holistic management for life, Natural farming in the family, Declutter your life, DIY natural body products, Green Connect: Nourishing the Community, Permablitz the gong and much more…