Winter may be dreary, but on the upside, it's also the season that brings us citrus fruit. With their bright colors and tangy flavors, lemons, oranges, and other citrus fruits can bring sunshine to the darkest days, and thanks to their ability to be dehydrated, you can enjoy these zesty fruits year round.
One of the easiest ways to preserve citrus is to dehydrate it, which can be done through a number of methods, the easiest of which is baking them in a convection oven in thin slices.
However, the conditioning process is almost as important for maintaining freshness throughout the coming months. You should check on your dried citrus several times a day for a week after the first dehydration to make sure no moisture is left in the fruit before you put it in your pantry for storage.
Steps to Dehydrating Citrus Well
To start off, you'll want to gather all of your desired fruit in one place and scrub and wash it well before continuing preparation. It's a good idea to use organic fruit in the case of preserving the entire fruit, rind and all, as these fruits tend to come fresher and last longer than non-organic fruits. Also, make sure you pat them dry before slicing them crosswise into discs.
Once sliced crosswise, citrus can be dried forming wheels that look like stained glass that can then be used in braises and tagines, added to teas, or simply dropped into your bottle of water to add a fresh flavor anytime.
Depending on the size of your fruit, you'll want to adjust the thickness—slice smaller citrus like limes and kumquats into one-fourth inch discs while larger ones like oranges and grapefruit should be cut up to one-half inch thick. You can cut by hand with a knife, but for more consistent slices, you may want to use a mandoline or even an electric slicer.
Arrange the slices on dehydrator trays, making sure they don't touch. If your dehydrator has temperature settings, turn it to 135 F or medium-high, or alternatively, you can lay the citrus out on racks on sheet pans, and set them in a very low convection oven (around 200 F).
Dehydration Time and Conditioning for Preservation
The amount of time it takes to dry the citrus depends on the size and thickness of your slices. Small wheels of kumquats might take only two to three hours, whereas grapefruit could take more than 12 hours. In the end, you're looking for the wheels to be dry but still pliable. The flesh should be slightly tacky, but not moist. The pith should be spongy and may curl slightly.
As with all dehydrated foods, the slices should be conditioned. Place the fruit in a jar, filling just two-thirds full, and seal the jar with a lid, and then shake the jar a couple times a day for a week. If you see any moisture in the jar, the citrus is not sufficiently dried and should go back in the dehydrator. Once fully conditioned, you can fill your jars completely with the citrus.
Store the dried citrus in a cool, dark place. It should last nearly indefinitely, though color and flavor may fade over time. However, if you begin to see moisture again after a long while of storing these or notice a strong smell from the fruit, it may be time to throw it out and dehydrate another batch.