Drying excess produce is one of the easiest, most inexpensive and oldest preservation methods available. I really like the fact that my homegrown food does not go to waste. I also like that it has no chemicals, additives or preservatives in it.
Dried fruits and vegetables supply useful amounts of necessary fiber in your diet. Because of their high natural-sugar content, dried fruits are rich in iron and other minerals. Dried beans and peas are high in protein.
Home dehydration has been a favorite of mine for years. I make dried pear, apricot, plum and apple slices to snack on in the winter. I dry onions, green beans, zucchini chips, tomatoes and bell peppers. Sun dried tomatoes are great for using in tomato sauce or any other recipe that calls for them. Other vegetables that can be dehydrated include: herbs, dried beans, peas, carrots, corn, beets, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, sweet potatoes, green beans, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes. The fruits I like to dehydrate include: peaches, pears, apples, pineapple, strawberries, apricots, cherries and berries.
Prepare Food For Drying
Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly and cut off all blemishes. Slice the fruit into bite-sized pieces so it will dry evenly. Cut apples, peaches and pears into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Remove pits from apricots, cherries and plums. Cut grapes, cranberries and blueberries in half or dry whole. Dried grapes and cranberries are called “raisins” and “craisins.” Cut bananas lengthwise into long slices or crosswise into round 1/4-inch pieces.
Pretreat To Prevent Loss Of Nutrition And Color
Pretreat fruits and vegetables to keep them from going dark after drying. Soak fruits in a sulfite dip. Dissolve sodium bisulfite in water, using 1 teaspoon for each gallon of water. Soak the prepared fruit for five minutes in the solution before putting the fruit on the drying trays. I soak my fruit in a product called Fruit Fresh. Lemon juice or ascorbic acid mixed in the soaking water will also help with keeping the color bright on fruit as it dries (1 tablespoon per 1/2 gallon of water).
I don’t pretreat tomatoes because they will become mushy. I add a little salt to them before drying. Other vegetables can be blanched in a boiling pot of water by placing them into a wire basket or colander and submerging them into the water for about five minutes. The blanching will stop the enzymatic action that causes poor color and texture if you dry the vegetables without blanching. Blanched vegetables also reconstitute more easily than ones that haven’t been blanched. Drain the excess water off the vegetables and place them on the drying trays, being careful not to overlap them. Then, start the drying process.
I have tested several dehydrators; my favorite one is the round American Harvest brand by Nesco. There is a snack master version that is smaller and a regular-sized dryer that can be added to with extra trays. My rectangular food dryer doesn’t dry food as quickly, and I must rotate the trays more frequently for even drying. The air circulates better in my round food dryer. Check it out at www.peggylayton.com.
Dehydrating depends on low heat, low moisture content and good air circulation. The temperature must also be controlled when you dry food in a dehydrator. Start out between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit and reduce the temperature as the food dries. It takes from six to 12 hours to dry fruits and vegetables in a dehydrator. I use my food dryer every day during the harvest season.
I take the food out of the drier or the oven when it feels dry. Vegetables should be dried until they are brittle, and fruits should be pliable. If some of the food is dry and some is not, remove the dried food and let the moist food continue to dry.
Drying Food In The Oven
You can also use a conventional oven set on the lowest heat to dry food. Drying time in the oven can take four to 12 hours depending on the food being dried. It is hard to get food to dry evenly; however, if you take care to make sure the food is cut into evenly sliced pieces, it will help. Dry no more than five pounds of prepared fruit or vegetables at one time. Place fruit or vegetables on trays that let the air circulate from below, as well as from the sides. Cake racks work well for this. If you do not have cake racks, use cookie sheets and turn the food every hour or so. When using cookie sheets, the drying process will take longer because the air cannot circulate around the food.
Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Fahrenheit or put it at the lowest possible setting. It should be between 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer placed inside the oven to check the temperature. Slightly prop the door open to keep the oven from getting too hot. You can use an electric fan placed in front of the oven door to speed up the drying. Turn foods over and stir every half hour or so because, as foods become dry, they tend to scorch easily. Switch the position of the trays every hour so the front will be in the back. Doing so helps dry the food more evenly.
I like to blend dried onions, red and green bell peppers, parsley, and any other herbs I have in my greenhouse or garden. Once the food is dried, I put it in the blender and pulverize it into a powder, mix it with a little salt to taste, then put it in a shaker bottle and use it for seasoning food.
Making Fruit Leather
Fruit leather can be made in the blender or food processor. Applesauce and overripe fruits work great for fruit leather.
To make fruit leather, puree your fruit. Cook apples, pears, peaches and nectarines before pureeing. I like to mix fruits together to make the puree. Any fruit will do — even bananas and pineapples. Be sure to drain the juice before blending. Pour the fruit puree about 1/4-inch deep on special fruit leather drying sheets, or drying trays that have been lined with plastic wrap. Since the center does not dry as quickly as the edges. Pour the puree only 1/8-inch deep toward the center. Dry at 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit until the fruit feels pliable and leathery. Check the center to make sure it has no wet or sticky spots. Once it is dry, it can be rolled up. Wrap the fruit leather in plastic wrap and store it in an airtight container. Store containers of dried food in a cool, dark, dry place (60 degrees Fahrenheit or below is best).
Yogurt Roll Ups
I like to dry yogurt on a piece of plastic wrap until it is pliable, then roll it up and eat it as a snack as well. Add toppings such as crushed nuts, chopped raisins, candy sprinkles, etc. to the yogurt before starting the drying process.
Storing Dehydrated Food
Dried foods must be cooled to room temperature before storing. If the food is too warm, it will sweat and cause moisture to form in the container. If there is any moisture present in the dried food, it might grow bacteria or mold. Check the food to see if it looks or feels like it is still moist. If so, put it back in the food dehydrator until it is completely dry.
I like to store dried food in canning jars or zipped baggies. Small packages may be stored in a larger container with a tight-fitting lid in a cool, dry place. The refrigerator is a good place to store them if you have room. Label each one with what it is and the date it was dried. It is best to use up the fruit within two to five months; however, if the food is kept in an airtight jar, it will last about two years.
Reconstituting Dried Fruits And Vegetables
Dried fruit makes an excellent snack. I take it to work as a snack to keep my energy up. Reconstituted fruits are good to put in oatmeal cereal or in cakes and pies. Once reconstituted, they return to almost their original size, shape and appearance. In a saucepan, pour just enough boiling water over the dried fruit to completely cover it. Simmer about 15 minutes or until the fruit is reconstituted back to normal. You can soak the fruit for a few hours before cooking. Cook the fruit in the same water that was used for soaking. Sweeten to taste near the end of the cooking process. Most dried fruits do not need any extra sweetening.
Food Storage And Self-Sufficiency Products Available
If you are interested in any of the seven books I have written (such as Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook or Cookin’ with Home Storage), the American Harvest food dehydrator, water storage tanks, ION water treatment (which provides safe water for five years), dehydrated or freeze-dried food storage sealed in gallon-sized cans with a shelf life of 15 years, wheat grinders, Bio-Clean sewage treatment, 72-hour packs or emergency medical supplies, click here.
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