Fruits and veggies preserved the old-fashioned way
I grew up reading and rereading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Read all the books two or three times, into the wee hours of the morning, flashlight under my sheets, imagining being a frontier girl. The harsh winters, the long periods between visiting real stores, butchering my own meat, chewing on jerky, working hard during maple sugar runs.
Playing with a pig-bladder ball. Somehow that seemed romantic.
When the Wilder family celebrated Christmas, their holiday treats were simple. They included things preserved in brine or salt or dried in the sun in previous seasons.
My sister married her beloved last week. With snow falling, we gathered the two families under one roof, and among the foods offered up was a large platter of organic dried fruits. Figs and bananas, mangoes and peaches, pears and apples, dates, prunes, raisins, pineapple. The platter was gorgeous, a real attention getter, and it gave the table a kind of graceful old-fashioned sumptuousness that felt especially right for the season.
I’ve been looking for something that felt healthy and traditional, and could clearly be marked as a Very Special Treat at this time of year, and there it was. Dried fruit. A beautiful platter of dried fruit.
And you know, that fruit was good. Without sulfites, it didn’t bother my head or my nose, nor anyone else’s. Dried fruit is very sweet, high in carb calories. With its water removed, it’s not very filling. A quarter-cup of dried fruit is a whole serving. But with a glass of water by your side to help you fill up, dried fruit does take time to eat, chew, gnaw. Having eaten it, we receive all the fiber and nearly all the nutritional value of whole fruit.
Dried fruits, dehydrated fruit chips, fruit leathers. You can find these treats made with no preservatives and little to no added sugar if you shop in natural and whole foods stores. Or get your own dehydrater and have fun making your own dehydrated fruits, veggies, and leathers. Dried and dehydrated foods last a long time, pack lightly for car, camping, hiking trips, and trips into orbit, too.
When buying dried fruit in the grocers, watch out for fruits preserved with sulfites if anyone in your family is sensitive. And read the package to be sure your raisins, cherries, and prunes aren’t overly plumped with corn syrup or other sugars. Most dried fruit don’t need extra sugar for flavoring, it’s generally added to make the food cheaper by weight and keep partially dried fruits from hardening too quickly. You don’t need the extra calories.
Use dried fruits as snacks on their own, slivered and sprinkled onto salads, softened and heated with other fruit juices for a lovely warm dessert, baked into tarts and pies, added to morning oatmeal, folded into homemade energy bars, stuffed into omelets, whizzed into smoothies, ground with nuts to form crumb crusts for low-carb pies.
To soften dried fruits that have gone too dry to chew comfortably, lock them in an air-tight container with a few drops of water or a quarter slice of apple overnight. Keep dried fruits in air-tight containers to keep them for months, or at least until the next time that fruit comes into season.
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