Food dehydrating is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. Drying fresh fruits and vegetables is quite simple. You will need a food dehydrator, or you can use your oven.
Fruit and yogurt leathers, dried fruit, beef jerky, herb seasonings, tomato powder and many other great dried foods can be made at home and stored for use at a later time.
The advantages of drying your own foods are:
- None of your excess garden produce goes to waste.
- Dried foods take up much less space.
- Dried foods can be eaten as a healthy snack.
- You will know that the food is organic without chemicals, pesticides or additives.
Using a Food Dehydrator
I use the Nesco American Harvest Garden Master.
If you are planning on drying your harvested produce, you will need one or two of these machines. I keep two dehydrators going at all times in the fall. The food dehydrator takes the guesswork out of drying foods. If the food is cut uniformly, the food should dry in about 12 to 24 hours. The Nesco American Harvest Garden Master dehydrator has good circulation.
The trays have plastic screens that come with them to keep the dried food from falling through the trays. The plastic mesh screens pull up easily which aids in getting the dried food out much easier. The American Harvest Garden Master comes with stacking trays so you can dry several different foods at one time.
I soak my vegetables in a solution of 20 drops of ION (stabilized oxygen) per gallon of water. ION (stabilized oxygen) will kill any bacteria on the vegetable. This is especially helpful if the produce is from Mexico or other countries. Using ION (stabilized oxygen) ensures that the vegetables will be free of harmful bacteria, and it helps the produce stay fresher longer as well as helps it retain its beautiful color.
Drying Fruits And Vegetables
To prepare fruits and vegetables for drying, wash and remove all dirt. Peel, trim and cut them evenly, making sure to cut away any bruises or decaying parts. A food processor can be used for more evenly cut pieces.
Blanching is necessary for most vegetables, but not fruit. Blanching is a process of heating the vegetables to a temperature high enough to kill all bacteria. It also stops the enzymes from breaking down the food, which can cause color and flavor loss in the drying process.
Vegetables are more alkaline and, therefore, must be dried until brittle. Fruits are more acidic and do not need to be blanched because of high sugar and acid content. Tomatoes are also very acidic, so they do not need to be blanched either. They will go mushy if put in boiling water.
- To blanch vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots, corn, peas and potatoes, use a wire basket to hold them and dip them into a pot of boiling water for about three minutes depending on the thickness of the vegetable. Take the basket out of the water and place the vegetables on the drying trays. The heat from the boiling water helps them dry faster.
- Optional: Add salt, sugar or spices to flavor the cut up produce.
- Load your fruit and vegetable slices single file onto the dehydrator trays, being careful not to overlap them, as this will slow the drying time. Keep fruits and vegetables on separate trays as to not mix flavors. Turn your dehydrator on immediately after loading to start the dehydration process. Most foods can be dried at about 140 to 200 degrees F. Consult the owner’s manual for recommended drying times, but expect the process to take between eight to 12 hours on average.
- As you reach the end of the drying time, check your produce frequently for dryness. To do so, simply remove a slice of food from the dehydrator, allow it to cool and then feel it with your fingers. If the slice feels dry to the touch, it should be adequately dried to the brittle stage. Allow your vegetable slices to cool to the touch before packing them in jars or plastic bags.
- To further evaluate the dryness of fruit, cut several fruit slices in half and check the cut edges for moisture. If any wet or sticky spots are present, the fruit is not yet dry enough and needs to be returned to the dehydrator until it passes inspection.
- Dried fruits need to go through an additional conditioning period before they are ready for storage. Place them in loosely packed jars and shake once a day for one week to ensure the remaining moisture is evenly distributed between the dried. Then store them away for a rainy day. You don’t want any moisture in the food, because it will mold.
I like to keep my dried foods in glass jars with lids and store them on my pantry shelves where I can see and use them.
Dried vegetables will last about six months and fruits will last one year. To extend the life of your dried foods, place in airtight plastic freezer bags and store them in the freezer until ready to use.
Dried foods can be eaten dried as a snack or reconstituted in water to use in recipes calling for fruit. Even dried bananas can be reconstituted and used in banana bread.
Tomato powder, dried onions, herbs and all other dried vegetables can be added to soups and stews without reconstituting to add extra flavor. They will soak up the water in the soup as they cook.
For fruit leathers you can purchase plastic liners that fit over the trays in the Garden Master Food Dehydrator. These trays hold fruit leather and dry it evenly so it can be peeled off the plastic and rolled up. The liners are pliable so the fruit leather rolls up easily without having to use plastic wrap.
How To Dry Zucchini
The end of the season means lots of zucchini. Instead of giving them all away, why not dehydrate them to use later in zucchini breads, cakes, muffins and soups.
- Slice up the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick rounds. If they are too large, cut the rounds into halves or quarters.
- Blanch the pieces as explained above.
- Place the rounds onto the dehydrator trays and dry at 140 to 160 degrees F for 12 hours or until brittle. I call these zucchini chips, and I eat them like potato chips. Before drying them, I like to add seasoning salt.
- If you are grating the zucchini, blanch it the same way you do for rounds. The drying time will be about six hours instead of 12.
- If you are reconstituting the zucchini for bread, you must rehydrate it by adding 2 cups of water to every 1 cup of dried zucchini. Let it set and soak up the water before using in a recipe. Drain any excess water that is on it. Use it in any recipe calling for zucchini.
Tomatoes And Onions
- Tomatoes and onion tops do not need to be blanched.
- Slice cherry tomatoes in half and larger tomatoes into slices. I put a little salt and pepper on them for flavor and dry them at 140 degrees F.
- Tomatoes can be used in any recipe calling for sun-dried tomatoes, as well as soups and stews.
- I like to blend my vegetables into a powder and use it as a seasoning salt. Tomatoes can be pureed and dried like fruit leather, then used in soups and stews to add extra flavor.
- I also dry the tops of all my onions then blend them into onion powder. It is delicious and adds onion flavor to meats, soups and stews.
This information came from the books Emergency Food Storage and Survival Handbook and Cookin’ With Home Storage written by Peggy Layton.