Withering Bites Transcript

The Kitchen

     If there’s a battle cry for foodies these days, it’s “seasonality”. The idea being that palate and planet alike profit from your serving up what is grown locally whenever possible and only when it’s in season. Of course, carrying through on this mission is not easy for Americans who have grown accustomed to having a steady supply of everything all the time. Unlike our grandparents, most of us lack the necessary canning skills to capture the seasons, and our freezers are too crammed with pizzas and popsicles for serious “putting up”.

[AB is reading an issue
of the faux magazine
“EQ Edible Quarterly”]

    So, when the tidal waves of plenty crash over us in the harvesting months, the fruit piles high. And no matter how much we munch, we can’t possibly munch it all. Before we know it, those food fiends, bacteria, yeast, and mold ... Oh my!... barge in, reducing our cornucopia to a ooey, gooey, furry, stinky little puddle. Then, when the fruity flow ebbs to a trickle in winter, we’ve no choice but to turn to high-priced fruits, grown in distant lands, which might not taste like anything at all were it not for the strange chemicals that they spray upon them.
    Of course, with a little bit of know-how, some sound science, and a wee little smidgen of hardware, you can comfortably contain an entire season of fruity goodness into a package that you can use later at your whim.
    [opens a pantry shelf, to reveal ... ] That’s right, dried fruit. Nope, it’s not something you buy. Well, you could. But you’d be shelling out a lot of dough for fewer flavors and more yummy chemicals. Not only is it easy to make, home-dried fruit opens up a whole new world of ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Whole Foods Market
Atlanta, GA – 10:15 am

    It isn’t surprising that fruit goes bad as quickly as it does. I mean, sure, there’s some acidity here and there to preserve. But mostly, we’re talking about sugar and a lot of water which provide microbial beasties a perfect breeding and feeding ground.

Apricot 87%

Pear 86%

Grapes 83%

  •     Plums, 80% water.

  •     Peaches, 89.

  •     Figs, 78%.

  •     Strawberries, 90.

  •     Apples, 84.

  •     Bananas, 76.

  •     And the eponymous watermelon, 92% water.

Plums 84%

Nectarines 8%

Peach 89%

Blood Orange 87%

    Now with proper drying, we can reduce that moisture to 10, maybe 20% while inversely increasing the sugar to the point where it actually becomes a threat to microbes through increased osmotic pressure. But getting this [plum] down to this [prune] is not simply a matter of aqua absentia. Don’t believe me? Ask a mummy.

An Egyptian Tomb

GUESTS: Two Mummifiers

    [AB is wearing hieroglyphic wolf head] When it comes to dehydrating, no one has ever beat the mummy makers of ancient Egypt. They knew that the real key to keeping a newly deceased pharaoh or pharaohette rot-free wasn’t exposure to the arid climate, but rather, proper prep. Now obviously, we don’t need a series of clay jars for the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach, because fruits, thankfully, do not possess these organs. Nor do we require the use of this device [holds up a hooked tool], because fruits don’t have brains or noses to pull them out of. And that means that we don’t need piles of sawdust, or tree resin, or hay to put into the head cavity, because [looks at a body being mummified] ...  oooh.
    Before wrapping in a thousand yards of linen, royal remains would be soaked in a form of sodium carbonate, related to lye—called “natron”—for 40 days. This pulled moisture out of the, ... um ... well, "customer" and changed the pH so that the body would be unappealing to bacteria. Although modern commercial fruit embalmers don’t usually employ natron, they do use an equally ancient and mystical substance.

Whole Foods Market

GUESTS: Pathogen Sock Puppet

    Sulfur. Anyone who has purchased commercially dried fruit in the U.S. or red wine, for that matter, has witnessed first-hand the power of this element. Which is one of the most popular food additives in the world for this simple fact: it can slow down bacteria, mold, and yeast by tricking them into mistaking it for vitamin D.

AB: [files off a bit of the sulfur, feeds it to a pathogen sock puppet]

...  which they pig out on and then die.

PSP: [eats it and dies]

    Sulfur can also slow the rancidity of fats by halting oxidation, the rather violent process by which certain less stable molecules steal electrons from other molecules. Oh, and it also can shut down the enzymatic engine that makes cut fruits turn brown. [looks down at the dead pathogen]

AB: [to no one in particular] Clean up on asile six!


Back Patio

    [a sulpher rig of the type he's talking about slow builds itself on the patio floor] Taking the preservative power of sulfur into your own hands is a simple, albeit stinky proposition. The Internet is full of web sites giving instructions for this sort of thing. But most of them call for stacking up cooling racks, or oven racks lined with the fruit, outside, of course. Then you place some kind of heat-proof vessel underneath. You add a little pharmaceutical or food-grade sulfur, you light the sulfur—it burns pretty easily—and then you just slap a cardboard box on top of it. It’s a fumigation rig or smoking rig.
    Of course, you could also just dip the fruit in any number of sulfur-based solutions. And that is what is done to most commercially dried fruit. The problem is, is that a lot of folks, especially asthmatics, are prone to sulfur and sulfide allergies, which can be sudden and severe. So, that leaves us with a question: What might we have in the pantry that bacteria don’t like, that contains antioxidants, and that can interrupt enzymatic action?

The Kitchen

    [inside the pantry] Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, would certainly do the job, but it is extremely bitter even in small doses. The acetic acid in vinegar would do in a pinch, but its distinctive pungency would be as overwhelming as the vitamin C. Citric acid is almost as powerful an antioxidant as the ascorbic variety, and it is available in powdered forms in many megamarts. Of course, citric acid may already be in your kitchen in sufficient amounts. [holds up a lemon]

    To compose your very own batch of Antibacterial Anti-aging, Dried Fruit Dip, squeeze enough lemons to get a cup of fresh-squeezed juice. And don’t worry about taking out the seeds and the pulp and all that. And dilute it into one quart of water. There.

1 Cup Lemon Juice, Freshly
1 Quart Water

    Now, as you can see, I’ve amassed some of my favorite mummification candidates. I have two big, juicy mangoes here, three nice Gala apples, and a lovely pint of strawberries: so delicious but for such a short time each year. We’re going to change all that.
    Now, before we dip, further prep is necessary. Peel and cube your mangoes and then cover [with the dip]. Ditto the apples. There we go. Of course, it’s kind of tough to peel the strawberry, what with all those seeds on it, so we’ll just leave them be.  Now this soak should be brief. No more than two minutes. As a matter of fact, 30 seconds would be enough. Then drain them thoroughly and have them standing by for the dehydrating mechanism.

Raisins are the most popular form of dried fruit, not to mention the oldest.

The Kitchen

    I have a deep, personal disdain for food dehydrators. It’s not just that they’re all unitaskers, which they are, but 99% of those on the market are little more than just cheap heaters attached to the back of cheap plastic boxes. But at the very worst, they don’t work at all. The very best, they cook as much as they dehydrate the food, and that creates a completely different type of flavor and texture. One that we don’t want.
    Now remember, our goal is to remove about 75% of the liquid in a reasonable amount of time with as little heat as is necessary. Now if you’re a fan of this show you may remember the “Blowhard 5000” [shows a box fan], which we have employed to dry herbs and beef jerky. It is a simple hack requiring nothing more than a box fan, and four cellulose, rather than Fiberglas, heater or furnace filters. Now you can get these at your local hardware store. They’re extremely cheap. Sometimes, they come with this kind of little paper grid over it, and you can just cut all that off. No problem.
    Now fruit, of course, is sticky and it’s wet and it’ll definitely bind up on those filters. So what I used to do is, I used to line them with just big pieces of window screen. But my doctors told me, “That’s not food-grade plastic.”, and I could, like, sprout another eye or something.

    These are food grade. See these little guys? These are mats that come from commercial dehydrators. But that does not mean that we have to buy a dehydrator. Nope, all you have to do is go to the Internet and go to your favorite search engine, and type in “Dehydrator Tray Liners”, and you can buy these cheap and quickly. You’re going to need six of them.

Dehydrator Tray Liners

    Now here’s how I build it. One filter goes on the fan so that the ridges would be parallel to the floor when standing upright. The first mat of fruit goes down. Another mat goes on top to sandwich for safety. And then another filter for proper air flow. Now I’m only going to build this one three stacks high. I’ve tried four. But generally, that’s so many filters that the air flow is impeded so much that that last layer on the outside does not dry properly. This way, we ensure that everything will dry. And the last filter goes on with the metal facing out, if it’s there.
    Next, a couple of bungee cords to hold those filters in place. Don’t stretch them too tight. They could pop, and, I don’t know, knock your teeth out. Be careful. One on the top, and one on the bottom. There, nice and secure.

Spare Bathroom

    [now in a shower stall] Set up your Blowhard some place nice and peaceful, turn on your fan, and let it do its thing for 42 to 48 hours. Now, I like doing this in my spare bathroom. But, you know, you wouldn’t turn the water on in here, right? Good.

Drying times will vary depending on the temperature
and humidity in your neck of the woods.

    Oh by the way, if you have an aversion to, say, I don’t know, bungee cords, or you want the option of drying larger hunks of fruit, say, I don’t know, halved figs or apricots, you’re going to have to bring a little bit of heat to the party. It’s not that the Blowhard won’t do the trick. It’s just that it’ll take a really really really long time. During which, small little nasty things might come to munch, if you get my drift.

The Kitchen

    [opens the oven door] The problem with oven-drying fruit is that, ideally, we’re looking for, say, 115 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. And most ovens can’t cruise below about 170. Now one solution would be to simply load up your mats with dipped fruit and put them on the racks here. Or you could even skip the mats and go with just cooling racks. That would be okay. And turn the oven on to its lowest setting and crack the door about that wide. [holds his fingers about two inches apart] Now you would get the job done, but it would be an amazing amount of energy waste involved. And that kind of waste just doesn’t really go with the whole home-drying thing. Luckily, we have alternative heat sources.
    Of course, you could just take the “EasyBake” route, and stash a bunch of light bulbs in here and crank them up. They would certainly dry the fruit. But they would waste a lot of energy again. And light destroys certain nutrients, like vitamin A.
    During cold months, most hardware stores sell little heaters like this, that have built-in fans. This one cost about twenty bucks. And it’s actually made to go flush against the wall. Which means, we could just lay it on the floor of the oven and dry the fruit above, as long as we left it on low. I’ve done several batches like this. But the problem is, is small though it is, it still creates a lot of heat. And if you’re not very careful, you’ll create cooked flavors, which is not what I’m looking for. And that is why I went to the pet store.
    Actually, I went to the pet store because I had a lizard. A big, mean thing. I got rid of it. And one of the things that I learned is that lizards like it to be warm at night. But they like it to be dark. So they sell you these little ceramic heaters that you screw into a normal light socket. Now if you were to stash one of those in the bottom of your oven, thusly, and if you were to add a fan, say, a little battery-powered one like you get at a camping store ... that one has a magnet on it ... you would have a very effective food dehydrator. And if you had a probe thermometer like this, and I’m betting that you do, and if you connected that probe to the bottom of the rack with a little Gem clip, like this, then you would have a very effective monitoring system for your food dehydration needs.
    Next step, make yourself a little foil ball, place it up against the switch that turns off the oven lights, and close the door. Not only will that save your bulbs, it’ll open up a crack for humid air to escape. And that will speed the drying process. Also, it will protect your various cables.
    Now, how long this will take depends completely on the make and model of the oven, the make and model of the fruit, how much you got in there, how big the cuts are. But for four mats [of food]. I would say expect anywhere from 12 to 18 hours.

    Last step, you want to remind yourself of what’s going on in there, so that you don’t turn on the oven and melt all those nice mats.


One of the first vegetable dehydrators was
developed by French inventors, Mason and Challet, in 1795.

Spare Bathroom

    Well, it is time to harvest our dried fruit. [inhales deeply] Ahhh, just smell all that fruity goodness. Why even my shower curtain smells fresh and delicious.

The Kitchen

    Now when you unload your Blowhard, you’ll notice that the fruit is definitely shriveled and it’s also a little bit darker in color. But notice, there hasn’t been much in the way of browning. And that’s because of our dipping process.
    So, how do you know when the fruit is really dry? Well, take a look. Pieces should bend without breaking. They should feel leathery. And if you squeeze a whole bunch in your fist and then let go, there shouldn’t be any apparent moisture on your hand. Now, if you used a heated rig like your oven, you want to make sure to let the pieces cool down before you test them. Hot fruit almost always feels moist.
    Now at this point, the fruit is only mostly dry. There may be a couple of pieces that are relatively moist. And if you store them all together, that moisture could set off decomposition and that could be messy. That is why it is important to condition the fruit. Simply move it into a large vessel like this jar, making sure that there is plenty of air room, okay? Seal it up tight. Stash it for about a week giving it a toss every couple of days. That will allow the moisture level to reach an equilibrium. Then, you can move to the container of your choice.

Several days of freezing after conditioning will
kill any insect eggs hiding in organic fruit.

    Sealed in jars, freezer bags, or other air-tight containment and kept in a cool, dark, dry place like this [pantyr], your goods should keep for up to six months, easy. Now when it comes time to calculate storage space, keep in mind that 12 to 14 pounds of fruit can easily be reduced down to, well, two to three pints. So now that we have it, what do we do with it? Well, dried fruit is called for in thousands of different recipes, in both dry and cooked form. I have a favorite recipe in both categories, and they’re both ridiculously simple.

The Great Outdoors

GUESTS: Hikers: Woman and Man
                   A Doctor

WOMAN: [looking over bags of dried fruit] What you got there?
MAN: Some peanuts, some chocolate chips, some bitter stuff, and that stuff that gets stuck in your teeth. How about you?
W: Mummified version of oatmeal with some old hiking boot kind of thing.
M: That’s fruit.
W: That’s impossible.
M: Mmmm.
AB: [walking by, with a cartoonishly huge backpack] Hi ‘ya, hikers. Whatcha’ munchin’?
W: Trail mix.
M: You know, for energy.
AB: Oooh, that’s disgusting. Look, maybe you should try a little bit of my special mix. I think you’ll find this a little bit better. Go ahead. [they sample some of AB’s food] There you go.
M: [tossing his own food aside, eating hungrily] Wow! Tastes so fruity! Can you get this in stores?
AB: No, no, you can’t. And, you can’t have any more of that, either. But you know what I will do is, I’ll help you to make a little batch of your very own. Here, hold this bag, thusly. I think I got everything we need, right here ... someplace.

AB:     First, we’ve got the fruit. I’ve got seven ounces, by weight—it’s about three cups—of home-dried fruit. I’m using apples, mangoes, and strawberries, but that’s just me. There. Next up, some mixed nuts. About a cup. I’d say that’s five ounces or so. And a cup—three and a half ounces—of granola. There you go. Just seal it up, mix it up, and enjoy. That stuff’s not just good, it’s good for you.

7 Ounces Dried Fruit
5 Ounces Mixed Nuts
3½ Ounces Granola

M: Oh yeah?
W: How good?
DOCTOR: [enters also wearing a cartoonishly huge backpack] Well since their nutrients are concentrated, each handful of dried fruit delivers a basketful of nutrients, minerals, and plenty of vitamins, not to mention phytochemicals, such as chlorogenic and neochlorogenic acids which help slow the progression of heart disease.
AB: And don’t forget about the fiber, which helps to keep things moving, you know? Heh heh heh heh.
D: Speaking of moving, we should get moving. We don’t want him to catch up.
AB: Oh, yeah. Probably so. Listen, um ...  BYE! Hah hah!
W: Hey, what about your trail mix?
AB: Keep it. You’re going to need it!
M: Why’s that? [looks up, and screams]
BEAR: [growls fiercely]
M & W: [both run off]

While many desirable nutrients are concentrated during the drying process, sugar is concentrated too. So, munch accordingly.

The Kitchen

    Although dried fruit can be reanimated, as it were, by simply soaking it in boiling water and juice for, say, 10 or 15 minutes, I often find that it can be rehydrated in the target food. For instance, chopped dried fruit can be added directly to a muffin batter, or a rice pilaf. Pretty, isn’t it?
    I’ve also been known to cook fruit directly into ice cream bases. And although it can be sprinkled directly on salads, if you take the time to soak it in your vinaigrette first – well, you can see where I’m going with that. Now, on to my favorite dried fruit application.

[AB now appears twice, in a split-screen shot]

AB1: Actually, it’s not one dish, it’s two.
AB2: It’s two.
BOTH: Two combos in one.
AB1: One savory ...
AB2:  ...  the other, sweet.

AB1: On the savory side, eight ounces of combined dried apples, pears, and apricots, one small onion cut into rings, a teaspoon of minced garlic, two ounces brown sugar, the zest of one lemon, a quarter cup each orange juice and cider vinegar, and four cups of water, are brought to a boil in a small saucepan, set over medium heat.

8 Ounces Of Dried Apples,
    Pears, Apricots
1 Small Onion, Cut Into Rings
1 tsp. Garlic, Minced
2 Ounces Brown Sugar
Zest Of One Lemon
¼ Cup Each Apple Cider
    Vinegar & Orange Juice,
    Freshly Squeezed
4 Cups Water

Bring To A Boil, Over
Medium Heat

AB2: Meanwhile, on the sweet side, a slightly different procedure. The same eight ounces of dried fruit, only this time, it’s been soaking in two cups of water for an hour. Then, it goes into the pan, along with another two cups of water, half a cup of orange juice, half a cup of sugar, and the zest of one lemon. No pith, please. 8 Ounces Dried Fruit +
2 Cups Water, Soaked For
    1 Hour

2 Cups Water
½ Orange Juice, Freshly
½ Sugar
Zest Of One Lemon

BOTH: When the mixture comes to a boil ...
AB1: ... reduce the savory side ...
AB2: ... and the sweet side ...

BOTH: ... to a simmer. Then, add one cinnamon stick, one whole clove,  ... 1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Whole Clove
AB1: ... and, in the case of the savory, a teaspoon of ground rosemary. Simmer 40 minutes, stirring occasionally ... 1 tsp. Ground Rosemary

Simmer 40 minutes
Stirring Occasionally

AB2: ... until the fruit is soft, and the mixture is thickened.

Until Fruit Is Soft & Mixture Has Thickened

AB1: Then, remove from the heat, and serve hot ...

Serve Hot

AB2: ... or cold.

Or Serve Cold

    Our savory compote lives to serve grilled foods. Pork chops, chicken, and light-fleshed fish are especially nice, but so is venison. But that’s another show ... I hope.
    The sweet compote can be liberally applied to cakes, like angel food and pound, ice cream, vanilla is nice, yogurt, if you’re feeling healthy. If you want to get a little crazy, cut out a few rounds about yay [holds his fingers about two to three inches apart] of puff pastry dough, put about a tablespoon of the compote in the middle, fold it over, seal with a fork, poke some holes in the top, brush with an egg wash—just egg mixed up with a little water—and bake at 375 for 25 minutes. You’ll have yourself a nice little pocket pie. [takes a bite] Delicious.

Go to foodnetwork.com to find the recipe for Individual Fruit Compote Pies.

An Egyptian Tomb

GUEST: Mummy

    You know, I failed to mention when I was in here a few thousand years ago that in the last couple of decades several tombs have been opened in Egypt. And they have found vessels, jars and what-not, full of dried fruit. Now, we don’t know if the fruit was actually already dried when it went in or if the desert and time had just taken their toll. But what is interesting, is that some of the more curious archeologists who wanted to find out, rehydrated some of the fruit, tasted it, and reported that it did, indeed, taste fruity. Just further proof that dried fruit is an extra-fine pantry pal.

MUMMY: [opens its sarcophagus and samples some dried fruit]

    [speaking very fast] See you next time on “Good Eats”.

[closing credits]

Outtake - The Woods

BEAR: [growls as his head is in the dried fruit trail mix, pulls his face out of a bag, two pieces of dried fruit are lodged in its nostrils]

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010