Though fall has officially begun, we are still left with a bounty of fresh garden produce that needs to be preserved. We have canned, cooked, and frozen, yet there always seems to be another basket of something or other that nags at me to find a way to preserve it before it goes to waste. I don’t know about you, but after only 2 rounds of canning I’m just not motivated to pull out the water bath canner and wait for 2 hours for the water to boil, before I even begin the rest of the process. This is where dehydrating enters the picture and puts my mind at ease. Dehydrating is an easy and relatively unintimidating way to preserve your harvest for the winter months, and to create tasty snacks year round. Dehydrating is also good for families who like to buy in bulk, or like me, just can’t say no to a really good deal on that 5 lb bag of apples at the store. Here at Pine Mountain we have been dehydrating tomatoes, mushrooms, summer squash, herbs, jalapenos, and apples, to name a few.
Electric dehydrators are probably the quickest and easiest way to dehydrate foods yourself and can be purchased online or at many hardware stores for about $35 and up.With an electric dehydrator such as this you can dry just about anything in 24 hours time. There are different ways in which to season and treat specific produce before dehydrating, but with many things, such as tomatoes, you can simply slice, arrange on trays, plug the dehydrator in, and go about your other tasks while it works away.
Oven dehydrating is a much slower process, but if you have an oven, you can easily do it. Your oven must be able to maintain temperatures lower than 200° and you should start the dehydrating process only when you know you don’t need to use the oven for at least 8 hours. To dehydrate foods in the oven you must slice and treat them accordingly and lay them out on baking sheets. Set the oven and leave the door propped open for the entire process.
Suggested Oven Dehydrating Temperatures (Fahrenheit)
Meats and fish: 145° and above
Fruits and vegetables: 130° to 140°
Herbs and flowers: 100° to 110°
We are also lucky enough to have a solar food dryer on the campus to use. In the past month we have been drying herbs and flowers from the community garden in it, and it can also be used for fruits and vegetables. The solar dehydrator usually takes about 24 hours to dry herbs, but obviously this is dependent on the weather and the amount of sun it receives during any given day. For those of you who are so inclined you can build a solar dehydrator with simple materials and a guide.
Solar food dehydrator information can be found at: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/2006-08-01/Build-a-Solar-Food-Dehydrator.aspx
A simple solar dehydrator plan can be found at: www.solarfooddryer.com/Info/Mother_Earth_News_Article.pdf
What to do with dried foods
Reconstitute: Many vegetables can be reconstituted by simply soaking in water until desired volume is restored, they can then be used to cook.
Cook: if you want to skip the soaking process you can simply add dried veggies to soups, stews, casseroles, etc. I am a fan of using dried tomatoes in omelets and pasta dishes. Dried fruits can be used to make pies and other desserts.
Powder: dried herbs and vegetables such as peppers and chilies can be ground into powder once they are dehydrated and stored for seasoning.
|Delicious dried apples!|
Snack: dried fruits make a great healthy snack, you can eat them as is or make your own trail mix with nuts
You can also make your own fruit leathers and even jerky!
Here is a website with some great dehydrating tips and simple recipes to make use of your dried goods:http://farmgal.tripod.com/Dehydrate.html