Sunday, 2 November 2008

Dehydration Day: Drying for Dummies: TGRWT #11

And with that shameless flexing of my alliteration muscle we're into the eleventh, and my second, They Go Really Well Together.

It was a culmination of a lot of different, erratic thought strands that led me, on hearing the topic for this month's TGRWT, to immediately think Clove Dried Banana!!

Largely it's because I've “had preserving on the brain recently” (sounds vaguely Ancient Egyptian doesn't it?) that drying seemed the obvious choice. Also, Lidl just had a huge half price sale of fruit. I had bought some dried pineapple and mango from a real foods shop and thought “This is great but it's way too expensive. An apple is, what, 20p? and for what must be one apples worth of dried slices it costs over £1. Surely I can do it cheaper.” This is the motivation for a lot of my culinary exploits at the moment.

I dried apples, mango, kiwi, banana and orange. It's a really simple way to keep fruit and really useful for a new set of zangy flavours to play with .

Here they are:

Now. The bananas. I had a decision to make before drying. Would I:

(a) Stick the cloves into the banana first, leave it to absorb the flavour and then cut into slices?

(b) Cut the banana into slices then stick in cloves?

(c) Grind up the cloves and sprinkle on the slices?


[A] Skin on? For apples, kiwi and orange, skin on was fine. Orange skin produces a very strong flavour but it is traditional to leave it on. I tried skin off oranges a bit but cut them too thick and they never dried properly – I'll have to explore further.

[B] Skin off? Mango skin produces a far too bitter flavour and so needs to be removed. Would it be the same for banana?

I prepared the following combinations:

  1. (a)[A] - I stuck some cloves in a banana and left for a couple of days in the fridge to absorb the flavour then dried the slices skin on.

  2. (b)[B] - Cut the slices, skin off, and stuck in the cloves for drying.

  3. (c)[A] - Cut the slices, skin on, and sprinkled fine clove powder on them.

  4. (c)[B] - Cut the slices, skin off, and sprinkled fine clove powder on them.

The actual drying process is just a matter of putting all your slices on racks in an oven at a very low temperature, with the door slightly open to aid air circulation, and leaving it for ages. I kept mine at around 40 degrees C, and checked by keeping a cup of water in it and taking its temperature every so often.

I don't know how long it took, as I stopped and started the drying several times, for others to use the oven and also to go to bed – restarting the drying when it was available again, or I was awake again. Despite this the dried fruit still dried properly, with no spoilage, apart from the skin off oranges which, as I said, were too thick anyway. If the fruit isn't too wet before you turn it off then you can restart it without worrying.

How did they taste?

1. Despite being in the fridge for three days, as opposed to the one day I had intended, the cloves had very little effect on these slices. The skin flavour is strong but not unpleasant. This wasn't a remarkable combination.

2. This is a great way to dry the slices. I was surprised how much flavour got into the bananas, considering I had only stuck the cloves in moments before drying. You have to pick out the cloves before you eat the slice or you'll just get a whack of clove. A really good snack to eat on its own, probably not a strong enough all round taste for most culinary uses though.

3. and 4. These should be discussed together, as they are essentially the same. This is probably the best combination as the clove taste is strong enough, also you can adjust this by sprinkling more or less ground clove on the slices. The skin on/off difference is really a matter of what you're using them for: to eat as a snack skin off is more balanced but for cooking (I use them a lot mixed in with porridge) the skin on gives a more prominent flavour.

I would suggest not drying out the banana too much, although I've never been a big fan of those crunchy slices you get in breakfast cereal. Stopping the drying when there's still a bit of stickiness in the middle of each slice leaves them nice and chewy but not too tough.

Dish ideas

I was meaning to make a banana split out of these with ground dried banana on top of it. I haven't gotten around to this yet. They can pretty much be used to add bursts of flavour or texture to anything. Homemade banana ice cream with chunks? Or toffee ice cream to make an overall banoffee flavour. I have even cut these up and stuck bits into a fresh banana, just to get some interesting chunks of chewiness to break up the usual monotonous squishy texture.

If you are drying stuff I highly recommend thin slices of dried kiwi. They are amazing.