SIMPLY LIVINGBy Sherry Boas
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel February 25, 2007)
In the world of dried fruits, slices of dehydrated citrus are not as popular as dried apricots, figs, prunes, and, of course, raisins, which are simply dried grapes.
But few people have ever eaten the dried version of the one fruit that grows abundantly in Florida -- oranges. That's too bad, because dried oranges are delicious. They are extraordinarily sweet with just a hint of tartness to tease the taste buds.
In our family, my son Timmy is responsible for most of the dried oranges we consume. He is the one who picks red navels from local groves, spends time peeling the skins, slicing the juicy fruit into round pieces and layering them on our dehydrator.
When the dehydrator racks -- all eight of them -- are covered with orange circles, the machine gets plugged in on our porch, where air can circulate freely as the oranges dry. A fan and heating element in the dehydrator moves warm air through the stacked trays, causing the water in the fruit to evaporate slowly.
It takes about 24 hours for the once-plump fruit to evolve into a chewy condensed version of the original.
The whole process of preparing oranges for drying is not difficult, but it is messy. It's also messy during cleanup time, when the dehydrator trays need to be washed off. After first trying the sink and a scrub pad and then the dishwasher, my husband found the best cleanup method is to soak the trays overnight in a large bin. Come morning, they can be easily sprayed clean with a hose. But all that effort is forgotten with the first bite of this delicious fruit.
If you've lived in Florida long enough to remember when citrus groves instead of subdivisions covered the countryside, then you can imagine the fragrance each bite of dried orange evokes.
Bite into a piece of dried citrus and close your eyes: It's almost as if row upon row of Minneola tangelos, Page oranges and red navel trees are growing outside your back door covered with heady white flowers.
The entire experience is more than a taste sensation; it's a memory trigger for bygone days.
The other day, Timmy handed me a tray filled with freshly dried oranges and, I'm embarrassed to admit, I ate them all. In one sitting.
My excuse -- if you can call it that -- is that they were the first dried oranges of the season, and my instincts took over. When he put that tray in my hand, all thoughts of propriety vanished. It was out of my control. Since that day, Timmy has produced more dried fruit, and I have learned to exercise (a little) better self-control.
According to Victor Marino, founder of BellaViva Orchards in Denair, Calif., dried citrus is more than tasty; it's good for us.
"Just 30 grams, which equals about three slices, provide 120 percent of USRDA [United States Recommended Daily Allowances] Vitamin C and 25 percent of dietary fiber with only 100 calories," said Marino, whose company added dried oranges to its online catalog, bellaviva.com, two years ago.
The skin is responsible for the high Vitamin C content in BellaViva dried oranges.
"Much of the fruit's nutritive value is found in the skin, so we don't peel our oranges before drying them," Marino said.
At BellaViva, it takes 81/2 pounds of fresh oranges to make 1 pound of dried fruit.
BellaViva is one of a few companies producing dried citrus for edible purposes. It is far more common to find pieces of dehydrated oranges in potpourri and craft projects than on the dinner table.
So how does someone go about sampling this yummy food? There are few options other than ordering them online or buying a dehydrator and doing the work yourself.
If you choose the homemade variety, be forewarned: In all the years our family has been enjoying these aromatic snacks -- despite Timmy's wholehearted effort to pick, peel, slice and dry dozens of oranges -- our hoard of dried fruit almost always disappears within days.
But maybe that's OK. Sometimes the best things in life aren't always saved for later but are devoured with strong enough gusto to trigger future memories.