Once you’ve eaten dried melon, you may be inclined to agree with Marco Polo that it is “sweet as honey”. When you dry slices of watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew or other melons, the flavors intensify. It certainly tastes better than any candy I’ve ever had. White or light green melon flesh may turn slightly brown when dried, especially if sliced thin and dried until very crisp, whereas orange and red-fleshed varieties better retain their original color. If you are new to drying foods, you may want to read An Introduction to the Drying Food Preservation Method.
How to dry melon slices
Makes “a bunch of slices”, or about 8 servings
- 1 medium (2 to 3 pounds) fresh melon (any variety, such as honeydew, cantaloupe, or seedless watermelon)
- Wash melon. Cut melon in half and scoop out seeds and discard, or you may want to reserve the pulp and seeds to make Melon Seed Horchata, a refreshing beverage (recipe below). Cut melon in half again (quarters) and then trim to remove the peel. Finally, slice melon 1/4 inch thick. Pat dry with paper or cloth towels to remove excess moisture.
- Dry melon slices in an oven or electric food dehydrator until pliable or crisp, as desired for snacking.
- Cool slices for 30 minutes, or until no longer warm to the touch. Remove from drying trays. Individual pieces of food dry at different rates; some pieces will have more moisture than others. If there is too much moisture left in a few pieces, they can grow mold and contaminate the entire batch. To guard against mold growth, you need to condition dried foods before you store them.
- To condition dried foods, place them in a tightly closed container (such as a clean jar) at room temperature. Stir or shake the contents every day for a week. If you open the container to stir the contents, be sure to close it again tightly. During conditioning, the moisture will equalize—that is, excess moisture will transfer to drier pieces, until it is evenly distributed throughout the batch. During conditioning, if moisture forms on the inside of the container, the food is not sufficiently dry and you need to return it to the dryer. Alternatively, you may store partially dried foods in the freezer.
- Seal dried food in airtight container and store in a cool, dry place. Properly packaged, crisp-dried foods can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 year. However, less dry, pliable dried food may have a shelf life of only a few weeks to a few months. Storage life decreases with packaging that is not airtight, reopening packages, and fluctuating temperatures. If you live in a dry climate, your dehydrated foods will tend to stay edible longer.
Melon Seed Drink (Horchata): This sweet, refreshing beverage has a faintly nutty flavor. The melon seeds thicken the drink slightly and provide healthful benefits. It’s a great way to use the seeds from cantaloupe, honeydew and other melon, as well as pumpkin or squash seeds, which are often discarded. Put 1 cup melon pulp and seeds, 3 cups cold water, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or to taste) and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice (or to taste) in a blender jar and process at top speed until smooth. Taste and adjust the sugar and lime juice if necessary. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to blend flavors. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, pour over ice, and serve. Makes 1 serving; recipe may be doubled. To make horchata with dried melon and melon seeds, substitute 3/4 cup dried melon pieces and 1/4 cup dried melon seeds for the fresh melon pulp and seeds. Proceed as for fresh melon in the preceding recipe.
For more information about the drying method for other fruits, as well as vegetables, meats, and fish, see The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler.