"When they came to a plum thicket they set down their big pails. They filled their little pails with plums and emptied them in the big pails til they were full. They carried the big pails back to the roof of the dugout. On the clean grass Ma spread clean cloths, and Laura and Mary laid the plums on the cloths, to dry in the sun. Next winter they would have the dried plums to eat." - On the Banks of Plum CreekSun-dried fruit nourished the American pioneers through their long winters. During their time in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, the Ingalls family especially enjoyed the variety of plums. In the chapter titled, "Grasshopper Weather," Wilder describes the available varieties. They harvested red, yellow, and blue plums. The largest variety gathered were frost plums. These ripened after the first frost.
Since we don't have our own plum tree, we buy our dried plums (also known as prunes) from the grocery store. However, we have dried apples before. So when my 8-year-old daughter asked if we could dry blueberries, how could I resist?
Using Ma's method as a starting point, we lined a cookie sheet (for easy moving) with cheesecloth. Then, we placed the blueberries on the cheesecloth and covered them. The cheesecloth protects the blueberries from bugs. Next we placed the blueberries in direct sunlight hoping for sun-dried blueberries.
In the late evening, we brought the blueberries indoors so dew would not cover them and returned them to the sun in the morning.
I knew it would take at least several days to dry the blueberries. However, on day 4, they were still big, round, and juicy. Our days had been extremely humid and I suspect the humidity prevented the blueberries from drying more effectively. I decided to use the oven to dry the blueberries before they went bad.
I removed the cheesecloth and baked the blueberries at 200° for many hours. I checked on the drying blueberries every two hours. When the blueberries were no longer juicy when squeezed, they are ready to be removed them from the oven. Baking times will need to be adjusted based on the size of the blueberries and their moisture content.
The dried blueberries tasted a lot like raisins. The children especially enjoyed them mixed with yogurt and granola.
If you haven't done so, check out how to dry apples (it's easy) and our other pioneer recipes.
~ Annette Whipple