Easily foraged foods to dry for winter stores
Drying is an ancient food-waste-busting technique, dating back to a time before agriculture. Imagine...
Somewhere in the mists of human history, a group of hunter-gatherers have an especially lucky day and end up with far more fresh food than they can handle. After several days of feasting under a hot sun, our friends start to wonder when this meal will spoil.
But no. Day after day, as the leftovers sit in the dry heat, the taste grows ever sweeter. What’s more, the hunter-gatherers find that the dehydrated food can be carried for days without spoiling. The accidental invention of the world’s first ready-meals!
We may not spend our days chasing down herds of woolly mammoths or navigating land bridges to the Americas, but us modern day humans can still spin out autumn’s glut of wild food by drying it at home. Tried and tested for over 14,000 years!
Drying foods for storage: tried and tested by humans for over 14,000 years!
As with any foraging, tread carefully, always be absolutely certain of what you’re picking and leave plenty behind for other folks and wildlife.
Is drying foods using our ovens eco-friendly?
All these drying techniques involve running the oven for several hours at a very low heat. We totally understand that this causes concern for those of us who are trying to keep energy usage to a minimum.
We weighed up the pros and cons when researching this post and, on balance, we’d say that drying foods in your oven at a very gentle 60°C is, energy-wise, no worse than putting the central heating on for the same amount of time. Also, drying your own foraged foods has extra efficiency gains since it cuts out all the associated emissions and waste of commercial food production, packaging and transport.
If you haven’t been out blackberry picking yet this year, now’s your last chance to grab a share of this brambly bounty. Blackberries that aren’t immediately scoffed or set aside for puddings and preserves can be dried in a conventional oven.
>> Give the fruit a wash, removing any dirt, debris and stems.
>> Set the oven to 60°C.
>> Put the blackberries into a large pan and pour over enough boiling water to cover them. Leave the fruit in the water for just 30 seconds, enough time for the waxy skin to crack.
>> Drain and spread out the blackberries in a single layer onto a baking tray. Try to make sure there’s space around each berry, using two or more trays if you don’t have enough drying room.
>> Put the trays into the oven, leaving the door open a crack to allow the water from the berries to escape.
>> After four hours, test by squeezing one of the berries. If the berry shatters into a powder, they’re ready! If there’s still some ‘give’ in the fruit, leave the berries in the oven for another couple of hours.
>> Leave the blackberries to cool and finish the drying process overnight.
>> The dried blackberries can be stored whole for sprinkling over porridge or cereal, or crushed up into a vitamin-rich powder for smoothies. In an air-tight container at room temperature, they’ll last for up to six months.
Once the berries are dry enough to shatter into a powder, they’re ready
Dried rose hips
When you go on the hunt for blackberries, don’t ignore the bright-red, rock-hard rose hips in the hedgerows. Naturally rich in vitamin C, the fruit of the rose bush is utterly delicious dried and made into tea.
Look for hips that are firm and colourful. Leave any soft or dark-spotted ones for the birds.
>> Rinse the rose hips in water and dry on a clean tea towel.
>> Set the oven to 60°C.
>> Smaller hips can simply be topped and tailed at this point. Larger hips should be cut in half and the seeds scraped out, otherwise your hips will take forever to dry.
>> Lay your hips onto baking trays, spacing them out so there’s room for air to circulate.
>> Put the trays into the oven. Prop the door open about two inches to allow the water from the rose hips to escape.
>> After three to four hours, the hips should be bone dry. Allow to cool, then put the dried hips into a paper bag. Leave this in a dry place for a week to continue the dehydration process.
>> IMPORTANT: Rose hips should never be eaten whole as they contain fine hairs that can cause irritation. To finish preparing your tea, chop the hips into small pieces then sieve them to allow the hairs to drop away.
>> Stored in an air-tight container or tea caddy, your rose hip tea will last for up to a year.
>> Brew in a teapot, one teaspoon per cup, and leave to infuse for around five minutes.
Rose hips should never be eaten whole as they contain fine hairs that can cause irritation
More free foods to collect for winter dry stores
>> Scrumped apples can be dried into handy snack slices.