Leaving fruit in the sun to dry is an age-old preserving method. The reduced water content and natural sugars act to preserve the fruit from bacteria and give it a much longer shelf life.
Modern methods of drying include specialised dehydrators and heated wind tunnels. For some fruit, such as apricots and apples, sulfur dioxide may be added - this antioxidant prevents the fruit from darkening too much when drying out and helps it look more like its original state.
Sugar is also sometimes added to berries before drying, to make the end result sweeter.
Whatever the drying process, the smaller, shrivelled results, including sultanas, raisins, peaches, pears, apples and figs, are sweet and tasty eaten by themselves. They are also exciting to cook with.
In these recipes, the texture, colour and intense flavour of prunes, dried apricots and strawberries add a dimension their non-dried equivalents could not achieve.
The filling is quite sweet, so you should use a savoury pastry, without added sugar. Other dried fruits can be used, such as pear or peach, or a combination.
500g dried apricots
70g brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
2 sheets savoury short-crust pastry, defrosted
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp flaked almonds
Icing sugar for dusting
4 tbsp creme fraiche
Preheat oven to 170C. Place apricots, sugar, water and mixed spice in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring regularly, for 20 minutes or until stewed, thick and shiny. Grease four nine-centimetre-diameter muffin tins.
Cut four 12-centimetre-diameter rounds from pastry and carefully line tins. Fill with apricot mix. Cut four 10-centimetre rounds from remaining pastry. Brush pastry edges with egg and cover pies, pushing edges together. Press edges with a fork to seal well. Brush pie tops with egg and sprinkle over flaked almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is golden and cooked through. Remove from tins and serve dusted with a little icing sugar and a dollop of creme fraiche.
Makes four pies
Pavlova with dried strawberries
Dried strawberries are available from delis and food stores. They taste intense, with a chewy texture.
6 egg whites
350g castor sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour
50g icing sugar
300g frozen raspberries
600ml thickened cream
1 tbsp rose water, optional
100g dried strawberries
For pavlova, preheat oven to 110C. Line a baking tray with greased foil. Place egg whites in a mixer and whisk on high. Add 250 grams castor sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until sugar has dissolved and the mixture forms stiff peaks. Whisk in vinegar. Sift cornflour and icing sugar over whites. Fold through gently. Spoon onto foil to make a round shape. Bake for 1½ hours then turn off heat and allow to cool in oven.
For raspberry sauce, bring raspberries, water and remaining castor sugar to the boil in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve and simmer for five minutes. Strain and reserve, discarding seeds, allowing it to cool. Whisk cream and rose water to firm peaks. Spoon on top of pavlova. Top with nuts, strawberries and drizzle with raspberry sauce.
Tip To make strawberry crisps, thinly slice fresh strawberries and place on a baking tray lined with grease-proof paper. Dust with icing sugar and dry in an oven on 80C for one hour. Turn over, dust again and return to oven for 30 minutes. They add great texture to treats such as ice-cream, flans and Eton mess, or can be eaten on their own. Store in an airtight container.
Buttermilk waffles, prunes and chocolate
This waffle batter makes lovely pancakes, too, if you don't have a waffle maker.
1 cup self-raising flour, sifted
1 1/2 tbsp castor sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
70g butter, melted
100g dark chocolate buttons
200g pitted prunes, cut in half
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 scoops vanilla ice-cream
For waffles, place flour and castor sugar in a bowl. Stir through egg, buttermilk and butter to make a smooth batter. For chocolate sauce, bring cream to the boil and pour over chocolate, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Place prunes, water, brown sugar and brandy in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Cook until prunes have absorbed water and are a little syrupy. Cook waffles in a waffle maker. Place on a plate, covered with foil, and keep warm in the oven. Serve warm waffles with ice-cream, chocolate sauce, prunes and syrup.