Thursday, April 26, 2012

Loquat Fruit Leather... Maybe Not

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm in the midst of taking a class to become a "Master Food Preserver".  This week we discussed food dehydration and I was so excited about the class that I went home with an Excalibur Food Dehydrator.  I was able to borrow the dehydrator for a week, which is good because my first attempt at dehydration was not a resounding success.
Loquats fill my kitchen on Wednesday morning, April 2012.
We have lots of loquats at our house right now and I hate to see them all go to the parrots, much as I love to see the happy parrots nibbling ripe loquats from the treetops.  So I decided to make loquat leather.

The process sounded so simple.  Wash and seed the loquats.  Grind them to a pulp in a food processor, add sweetener if desired, and spread in an even coating on beautiful Silpat mats that keep the mixture from falling through cracks in the drying trays.  Load the drying trays into the racks of the food dehydrator, set the timer, and walk away for four to six hours.
Excalibur fully loaded, April 2012.

When I returned after four hours, it was clear that my experiment was not going well.  I hadn't put enough loquat mash on the mats and my loquat leather had created a pattern that I can only describe as a "crack in the sidewalk" effect.  With no other option, I reset the timer for another two hours and tried not to think about what was happening on the drying racks.

After a total of six hours, I did get loquat fruit leather.  Three different versions, in fact.  I made a version from each of the two varieties of trees that grow in our yard.  I also made a third version sweetened with a mixture of honey and sugar.

When I removed them from the drying racks to begin the "conditioning process", none of the versions looked great.  They were all crunchy on the edges and a little gunky in the center.

Conditioning is the most fascinating and overlooked part of the process.  Simply put, "conditioning" means putting your dried goods into an airtight container for a period of time until the moisture content of each individual piece of dried food reaches what's known as "equilibrium".  The moisture content of each piece of food you dry will be slightly different based on it's relative thickness.  If you put a collection of recently dried foods into an airtight container together, the moisture content will eventually even out.  The pieces that were a bit drier will absorb moisture from the "wetter" pieces-- a process that benefits both the thick and the thin pieces.
Loquat leather before the conditioning process, April 2012.

I'm hoping that the conditioning process will work wonders on my loquat leather.  I gave my youngest daughter a taste of the loquat leather when it came out of the dehydrator and she loved it.  I also tried drying some orange slices while I was at it.  With all the rain we've been having, they aren't drying properly and I'm not sure they ever will.  Time will tell.

Two of my classmates are also trying to make loquat fruit leather this week.  I'm hoping one of them will have more success and I'll be able to post a link to one of their blogs in the near future.  In the meantime, I will try again, but I think I'll wait for the rain to stop before I head to the backyard to harvest more loquats.