I've had a couple of spectacular failures with the products of the solar food drier recently. Since this is how I learn, and one of the reasons I chose to keep this blog, here I humbly share my failings.
The cloudy color in this jar of prunes is grain moth silk:
Grain moths, curse you! We have them in our kitchen and it seems like they've always been here. I partly blame the rye crisp crackers we kept in the lower kitchen cabinet for the last two years. It's odd how rye crisp tends to keep even in the paper wrapper. It's not amusing, however, to discover what a wonderful food source these Swedish crackers are for grain moths. I suspect they crackers were the launching pad for a very healthy population in our kitchen.
The grain moths tend to get into everything eventually but I thought that my hard-earned horde of dried fruit was secure for a couple of reasons. First it was dried fruit and as such protect by being desicated and containing a concentration of fruit sugar. Larvae would prefer starchy flour and similar items, not dry and sugary fruit. Quite the opposite, they thrived in it. Ugh!
I first noticed a problem when I found little dark spots in the morning hot cereal. No, that's not random fruit fiber. It's grain moth larvae poop. I only figured this out after finding a moth floating in the bowl.
At the bottom of this jar are little brown granules of insect droppings.
The second problem was that the moths got into a number of jars I had falsely assumed were well sealed. Here is the lesson: Do not trust new one-gallon pickle jars! I had been collecting them from the backs of restaurants. I liked them because they seal (or so I thought!) They are clear, so you can see what's inside. And they are large which makes them practical for storing food in bulk.
Here's a photo of a jar with the modern commercial quarter-turn lid:
The problem with this type of lid is that you simply can't tighten these down enough by hand to keep them air-tight. A good test to check if a jar will seal properly is to fill it with water and turn it upside down. If it leaks then it's suspect. Of course I only figured this out after my disaster.
All told, I lost about one and a half gallons of prune and about a quarter of a gallon of dried Asian pear and apple. Normally a few moths here and there don't bug me, but this fruit got infested really thoroughly really quickly.
My lesson here is to stick to classic half-gallon canning jars. The classic Mason jar requires over 360 derees of rotation to seal. This may provide better leverage to get a tight seal with the lid. At one point in time, gallon jars were made with this type of lid. It was a nice jar standard and the country is that much poorer that we don't have these readily available to use anymore. I now have to buy expensive half-gallon Mason jars. I don't like this but at least they seal properly.
The other fruit preservation failing was with a small batch of figs I dried. I discovered a neglected but fantastic fig tree near my work downtown. (The quality of fig trees really seem to vary from tree to tree.) The fruit was falling on the ground so I decided to "liberate" the tree from waste and do some help-myself gleaning. Here I think I didn't dry the fruit enough and they molded in the jar. Next year they'll get a better drying even if they get kind of tough and leathery.
I had to wait for a free weekend to take photos of the moldy figs since I'm at work when it's light out. During this time, the jar mysteriously ended up in the driveway. It appears to have become a science experiment of our daughter, Greta. Not sure what the appeal of mold was but that's what happened with it.
I guess it is pretty impressively fuzzy. Thank goodness she didn't open it inside.