One of the joys of gardening is always having a surplus at the end of the growing season to give away to friends and relatives. How would you like to learn how to dehydrate your own food so you can enjoy the fresh taste of your garden in the cold of winter? Almost any vegetable that can be blanched and frozen, along with most fruits and herbs, can be dried and put away for 6 months or longer and still retain their delicious flavor.
The simplest method of drying food is:
1. Cut the food into small, equal size pieces.
2. Either dip the pieces into an acidic solution (citrus juice, etc) or blanch them which improves the quality.
3. Put the food in your dryer in single layers and turn as needed until they are done.
How done is done? Fruits are considered done when they are soft and leathery while herbs and vegetables are considered done when they become crisp. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to drying foods. You can experiment by putting spices on vegetables and sweeteners on fruits to enhance the flavor. Your taste buds are the limit!
You have several options for a dryer. You can buy an electric food dehydrator or make your own using the power of the sun. The benefit of an electric dehydrator is that you can use it anytime, anywhere as long as you have access to electricity. Some models are also much faster than solar units, but the costs can be prohibitive (up to $200 or more).
Inexpensive alternatives can be as simple as hanging fresh herbs in your window on a sunny day, or sun drying items on an aluminum cookie sheet, to building a solar food dryer with items you can usually find in your home. It can be as simple as crafting a bin with an old window as the top. There are many ways to build a solar unit to dry your food, you just have to figure out which is best for you and your budget. I once knew a woman who used stackable baking racks to dry her garden surplus on her back deck.
The benefits of drying foods are aplenty. Drying foods retains their nutrition value better than canning. Freezing your food is just about as equal to drying when it comes to nutritional content, with the exception of fruit. Dried fruit “concentrates” the sugar content, so when eating dried fruit in the place of fresh, you should cut the portion in half. Dried vegetables such as peas, potatoes, corn, and green beans make a great base for stews/soups/chowders in the wintertime.
Joshua Vadney has always been interested in “being green” and having a lower impact on the environment.