Drying Food 101
Preserve your summer harvest to enjoy in the wintertime or anytime -- without canning. Try your hand at dehydrating your fruits and vegetables. Bet you thought about dried apricots just now!In our video Dehydrating Food, Tricia shows how to dry fruits and vegetables and make fruit leather. Pretty much no muss, no fuss, if you have a good dehydrator.
How and Why Does Drying Food Work?
Dehydrating or drying food is not a new concept. Our ancestors knew about drying food and early American settlers dried foods such as apples, grapes, corn, and even meat. The concept is simple, organisms that spoil food need moisture to grow. Remove the moisture, the bacteria cannot grow.
What to Dry?
Ripe, unbruised fruits and vegetables. Fruits are easier to dry. Try your hand at drying apples, apricots, pears or grapes. For vegetables dried zucchini, beans or peppers are good for drying. Fruits that are not appropriate for drying are those with a high moisture content like melons or cucumbers.
Most herbs are easily dried. Basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary or sage are a few that come to mind.
What Prep Do I Need to Do?
- Peel thick-skinned fruits and vegetables, slice uniformly, and remove pits.
- For waxy small fruits like grapes, blueberries, and cherries you need to create some breaks in the skin coating -- do this by "checking" or "cracking" with a 30 second dip in boiling water.
- Blanch vegetables with steam for 30 seconds, then drop into an ice water bath.
- To keep apples,pears or apricots from browning, (according to Alabama Cooperative Extension) dip in a citric or ascorbic acid solution before placing on the dehydrator sheet.
Is It Hard to Make Fruit Leather?
No, It's easy!
Puree the fruit in a food processor. Then pour it on a special, non-stick sheet that fits your dehydrator, and spread it with a spatula to a uniform 1/8-inch thickness. The leather will keep longer if placed in the refrigerator or freezer.
How Do I Use the Dehydrator?
Excalibur dehydrators come with complete instructions (and an excellent cookbook). Space slices evenly on the rack or you can also use disposable sheets, and start with the time guidelines in the guide and in the university articles or books listed below. Humidity varies, so check your produce during the process. Fruit pieces will be springy and leathery when done; vegetables will be tough or brittle. Fruit leather is ready when it is "leathery" with no sticky spots.
The Nesco dehydrators are a less expensive way to get into drying food. Easy to use on a countertop, due to their round shape, their other major difference from Excalibur is that the fan blows from the bottom instead of the back. Expand the 1,000 watt Gardenmaster Dehydrator up to 30 trays tall. The 500 watt Nesco Snackmaster lets you start dehydrating at a modest price and expands to 12 trays. Both dehydrators in the Nesco line have accessories for making fruit leather and jerky.
For More Information
University Extension Articles:How Do I Dry?, University of Georgia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign How to Dry Foods at Home, University of Missouri Our Favorite Books on food drying with dehydrators: Preserving Food at Home or Food Drying Techniques
If you want to use solar drying techniques read The Solar Food Dryer.Don't let your organic harvest go to waste -- preserve and dehydrate!