Dried citrus can yield sweet result

2013_COLUMN_WOOLFREYAbout six months ago, I found myself with 20 pounds of free grapefruit after combining a coupon with a store special. My daughter looked up at me with a cocked eyebrow, then questioned my sanity for buying 20 pounds of grapefruit. All four bags ended up being 16 cents total, so how could I turn it down? Maybe I was crazy, because it ended up being an all-day project, but for months now I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labor, if you will.

I did the obvious and juiced some grapefruits, and canned grapefruit sections. That was one big, juicy endeavor, but totally worth it, of course.

After conquering two bags, and with a plan to eat a third, I peered over at the remaining bag with both dread and duty. Then it occurred to me, I should try and employ the easiest way to preserve – dehydrating. So I mopped up the grapefruit juice from the cutting board (and the floor), washed the sticky mess from my arms, and neatly sliced the remaining bag of grapefruit and placed them on the dehydrating trays. Victory.

The first question I get when people peruse my jars of pretty put-ups is, “How do you use dried citrus?”

Of course, dehydrated citrus perks up a common cup of water or pitcher of tea, but can also be used as an aromatic for cooking. You can stuff a whole chicken with dehydrated limes, lemons or oranges along with your onion, garlic and herbs. I put a few slices of the sweet, dehydrated lemons in a water bottle and just keep refilling all day, and the flavor never seems to wane.

I came up with something I called “Lemonade Wheels,” where I coat slices of lemon with stevia powder, then dehydrate. The result is a perfectly dehydrated lemon slice, encrusted in a sparkling shell of calorie-free sweetener. Plop a couple in your glass, and soon you have lemonade without the calories.

Dehydrated grapefruits and oranges make wonderful snacks, and in fact, my children eat dehydrated oranges like a pair of starving hyenas. It’s like eating orange candy.

My favorite dehydrating experiment must be my “Orange Bites.” Remember that gum you could bite into, and a burst of juice exploded in your mouth? I figured a way to replicate that, except it’s not gum, it’s fruit.

I cut peeled oranges into sections, then cut each section in half. Place on dehydrating trays at 135 degrees for about six hours. Drying time depends on your dehydrator, but keep going until the oranges are no longer sticky on the outside. Make sure not to over-dry, or you will end up with a dried out exterior, and a flat stream of juice instead of the “pop” sensation when biting into the fruit. These should be stored in the refrigerator, but fine to pack unchilled in lunches. Now my kids can take fresh oranges on-the-go with no sticky mess.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, consider getting one. Preserving food by dehydration allows you to stock up during sales and preserve delicious farmers market picks. And when a friend offers you free reign over their citrus tree, you can go my kind of crazy and pick 20 pounds.

This is my first monthly column for the North Coast Current. Each month, I will answer selected questions regarding homemaking, budget cooking or preserving. Please submit questions to [email protected].

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem is a former North County resident who produces the Preserved Home blog. Visit www.preservedhome.com.