First, I have to admit I am not an expert at dehydrating. Until last year, I had an old tag sale garnered dehydrater that was not very efficient. It was one of the tall round models without a fan or temperature control. Still, I managed to dry the easier things like herbs, onions and peppers without a problem although I spent a lot of time moving shelves around and picking out food from the base as the mesh was too large and and the food kept falling through. Then I tried a friend’s Excalibur last year. (thanks Dan and Kathy)I was an instant convert. In no time I had a gallon jar full of dried tomatoes (we just ate the last of them), a years worth of dried peppers (great rehydrated and put on pizza), quarts of herbs for tea and seasoning as well as garlic, onions and apples. I even took all of the vegetables that got too big to eat, dried them, ran them through a grinder and made a kind of stock base that flavored soups, stews and rice all winter. As I recall, I put in string beans, onions, carrots, leeks, celery, summer squash, zucchini, red peppers, green peppers and a bit of cabbage. I went very easy on the strong tasting stuff and loaded up on the carrots and squash. I stored the stock in brown bottles. I kept one bottle out and one in the freezer. They held up equally well and took up almost no space. I plan to make a lot more this year. I also dried some granola and made a batch of yogurt. I did not raise bread in it but if the day was cold and damp, it would be the prefect place. I don’t have to add that I bought an Excalibur.
Dehydrating is my favorite method of preservation. It is easy, cheap and reliable. The food stores with no refrigeration. It weighs practically nothing and takes up very little space. It does take a while to get uses to how funny looking the produce is-all shriveled and ugly-but it plumps up to look close to fresh in some simmering water.
But, like everything, there is a learning curve and it pays to get a good book on the subject. I have several food preservation books that cover drying but now that I have my own Excalibur, I am going to buy a stand alone book on the subject.
Some produce like herbs and some fruits can be dried as is-just a quick rinse and pat dry and into the machine. Other things need pretreating, much as you would for freezing to halt the enzyme action that causes spoilage. A food like blueberries needs to have the skin broken to facilitate drying. Pricking the skin would be a laborious task so the berries are usually immersed in boiling water to split the skin. A lot of food that is prone to discoloring should be pretreated. Some foods should be peeled, some not. Here is the reason for a book. There are far too many variables to cover in a post. Different foods should be dried to different stages. Some things will be dry but pliable; other dry and brittle. It is even possible to dry meat if it is jerked first. I have never done this but I would like to try. The re-hydration methods are also different. There are a lot of things you can eat at the dry stage. We love dried apples as is. Others must be soaked before cooking. Still others can go straight into a stew or soup. As I said. There is a lot to learn.
Storage of dried food is vital. Done wrong and the food picks up moisture from the atmosphere and will spoil. I store my dry food in food saver bags with the air removed or in dark jars. I sometimes use mason jars and keep those in a dark cabinet. I will sometimes put an oxygen absorber packet in the jar. I stored some of my tomatoes in olive oil. Those I refrigerated but I don’t know if I had to. I think dried food is perfect for preparedness. All you need is water and heat and you have a meal.
I just ordered some attachments for my food saver that will allow me to suck the air out of mason jars and wine and soda bottles. I am hoping to make fruit and vegetable leathers and store them in air free mason jars.
I know a lot of people use solar dehydrators. I am a big solar fan but I live in Western Massachusetts and our climate is just to unpredictable to count on for food preservation. If I lived in a hot dry climate, I would have one of those.
*If you are really interested in drying food, go the web site, dehydrating2store. It is run by a Mormon lady who knows her stuff. It is series of videos (I think 11 of them) that take you through the process. A word of warning. You will want an Excalibur and a Food Saver when you are done.
I expect a lot of my readers know a lot more about this subject than I do. I hope you will not be shy about chiming in. I consider this site a kind of friend’s chain letter. I add something, you add something. I go to your sites and you send friends to mine. It takes the place of letter writing in a way. It is also the only way for me to keep up a homesteading journal. I appreciate all of you who keep coming back and adding on.
By the way. This leads to something I have wanted to do for some time. I know I have visited some terrific sites that I have misplaced URL’s to. Could we do a check in with first names and URL’s?I will try to get them all together in a post. I want to update my blogroll and I know I am missing a few favorites.