Dehydrating Food 101

 

You don’t have to grow your own food to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. I had a dehydrator for years before I started using it regularly. Part of me couldn’t believe that such a small amount of heat could make food edible let alone more delicious than before.

It’s true! Drying foods concentrates the flavors.

jerky
This is beef jerky halfway through the drying process.

My first foray into dehydrating was making beef jerky. But I’ve since dried tomatoes, okra, beans, peas, strawberries, and squash.

There are few rules to dehydrating.

• Always slice your meat, vegetables, or fruits the same thickness. If some are thinner than others place those on the top trays so they don’t dry out too quickly.

• For best results, freeze your meat until it’s firm (but not frozen through). It will make it so much easier to slice.

• Wash fruits and vegetables, then pat dry.

• Never let your food touch each other. You want air to circulate freely on all sides.

• You can make fruit leathers if you blend fruit into a puree then pour (carefully) into liners on the dehydrator trays.

• Check for doneness. They should be flexible but not rock hard. You can dry them until hard if you plan to pulverize them.  Many people do this for onions and garlic, but also for tomatoes and celery. Heck, I’ve seen people dehydrate tomato skins alone and turn them into tomato powder.

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For meat, you can add a dry rub from any number of prepared mixes from the store. I’m a purist. I prefer salt and pepper.

For veggies like green beans, I coat them in a little olive oil and toss with fresh ground salt. They are DELICIOUS! Greg and I polished off an entire batch in one sitting. (That ended up being our dinner.) They’re great snacks when you want something other than potato chips or popcorn.

I don’t season tomatoes at all. I dehydrate until semi soft and put them in the freezer. When I make soup, stew, pasta or pizza sauce, the dried tomatoes go in the pot and I let them reconstitute there. It will take your meal to an entirely new level of flavor. Every year I dehydrate tomatoes rather than can them now. They are that good!

Dehydrators come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very fancy, others are nothing more than a light bulb at the base of the machine.

If you have a big garden or a big family, go with a larger dehydrator, otherwise you’ll have that machine running for days at a time. This is the Excalibur 2900ECB. Within my circle of gardeners and cooks, this brand is the hand’s down favorite.

The one on the right is the same brand but about $50 more. It also has a 10 year warranty compared to the one above with a 5 year warranty. You can click on the pictures to take you to the Amazon page.

The dehydrator I currently have is pretty old. It doesn’t have the nicer trays or higher wattage of these newer models. When it finally dies on me I’ll probably opt for the Excalibur since all my gardening friends speak so highly about it.

If you don’t need something this big, try the Nesco Snackmaster. It’s just the right size for people who won’t do a ton of drying but still wants to do jerky or fruit leathers.

If you have teenagers, jerky and dried treats are way healthier for them. Better for junk-food eating husbands too. 😉

Oven drying: You can dry food in your oven but between you and me, it’s kind of a pain. Not only do you waste a lot more money on energy usage but it pretty much monopolizes your oven until the drying is done. I don’t recommend it unless you have no other choice.

Outdoor drying: There is one other option for you heartier, back-to-the-land folks, and that’s solar drying. If you live in a climate like mine where it’s hot and has relatively low humidity, you can dry your food outdoors. The reason I’ve never done it is because you have to make sure no insects can get inside your drying trays. I’m real touchy about this which is why I prefer to stick to the machine.

green-beans-ready-for-drying
Oiled and salted. Ready for drying.
green-beans-dried
Same green beans, dried and ready for snacking.

Have you ever tried making jerky or dried fruits or vegetables? I always say I’m going to dehydrate snow peas, but somehow I never have enough left over. 🙂  The green beans were the real surprise though. "=D They were absolutely delicious. Greg wanted more but I only planted a few token green bean plants. Next year, I’m doing a big bed of them.

 


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8 Comments

  1. JackieBCentralTexas

    Maria it must be almost 18 years or so since last time we dehydrated foods. Karl and I made ourselves Banana chips and some Beef jerky a couple times with a very cheap, very small round dehydrator we bought at a KMart in Austin when we lived in Central Texas area the first time over 20 odd years ago. We loved both and if remember correctly we may have tried apple slices as well but it has been too long to be certain.

    The only thing keeping us from using one now is the fact we have not replaced the one we had and we no longer plant a garden since Mom and I cannot help take care of it and more importantly the past 3 years the weather has been so unstable the last garden Karl planted froze twice and then drowned because it rained too much over the growing season during spring/summertime months.

    (Fresh green beans would be my favorite as well.)

    • Jackie: I don’t do jerky near as often as Greg wants, but I dry tomatoes every year. It’s so much quicker and easier than canning.

      I plan to do a lot more green beans next year, that’s for sure.

      I don’t replace what works either. The new ones are probably more efficient but I can’t see buying a new one when the old is still working.

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