This time of year, cranberries are on sale at nearly every grocery store. Cranberries, those little, red orbs of tastefully tart fruit waiting for the creative cook to rescue them from the store shelves, are the staple of many an autumn menu. There are so many fabulous things to do with cranberries that the mind can boggle with possibilities. Enjoying their sweet-tart flavor all year long is possible if you learn how to dehydrate them and preserve your own.
All you need is a dehydrator, a few bags of cranberries and some sweetener, if desired. Open the bags of cranberries and pick through them, removing any that have begun to soften or that are damaged in any way. These are especially good to feed to wild birds or backyard chickens.
Then next step is to break the skins. This can be done by either cutting the berries in half - a somewhat tedious process or by blanching them. Cutting them in half one by one ensures they are all exposed but takes a great deal more time and patience. For most people, both of those commodities are stretched pretty thin. Blanching is the way to go.
Place a pot filled with enough water to cover the berries by an inch or so on the stove. Do not add the berries yet! Bring the water to a boil. Once it is boiling, remove the pot from the heat. Add the berries now and only leave them in for a minute or so. Any longer and they will begin to cook. This will allow the skins to split so they can dry out. If you skip this step, you will find yourself with trays full of hardened red marbles instead of withered, tasty raisin-like cranberries at the end of the process.
After removing the berries, spread the berries on the trays of your dehydrator. If yours has temperature settings, use the setting for fruits and berries as outlined by the manufacturer. The process should take a total of 16 hours. After about 8 hours, rotate the trays, shaking each to loosen berries a bit. After ten hours, check your progress every hour or so to avoid over-drying the berries. They should have the consistency of raisins - still soft, slightly tacky to the touch. They should not still be moist. These can be stored in mason jars or in the freezer in freezer bags or other freezer containers.
If you prefer the taste of the slightly sweetened name brand cranberries found in the supermarket, you can sweeten your cranberries during the blanching process. Make a syrup of ¾ cup sugar to 1-cup water. You may prefer more or less sweetener so you'll have to try in small batches to get the desired taste. Bring the syrup to a boil as before. Add the berries and boil for 1 minute. Then remove the pot from the heat and let the berries soak for about 30 minutes. Pour off the syrup and let the berries drip on a screen or in a colander to remove as much of the syrup as possible. Spread the berries on the dehydrator trays and proceed as before. The berries will be stickier to handle but will have that sweet-sour taste.
Sometimes dehydrated foods stick to the tray. Try turning the tray upside over the base of the dehydrator unit to loosen them more easily. Simply use a butter knife or fork and pass it between the ridges of the tray, pushing the berries off and into the base tray below. Your hands will be less sticky and you won’t drop any of the berries.
That's it! You now have jars or bags full of scrumptious dried cranberries to use in recipes like muffins, breads and salads or simply to snack on. And you'll save money as compared to those fancy store-bought packages. Enjoy!