Are you looking to save some of the food from your garden, your foraging walks, or the farmers market for use during the winter? If you are short on space as I am, one of the best ways to do it is to dry or dehydrate your food and plants.
In “Preserving Your Foraged or Cultivated Harvest by Drying, Part 1” I discussed drying by hanging bunches of plants or herbs or laying them on flat surfaces where air can circulate. It’s a marvelous way to preserve your food simply and easily.
However, once I got a dehydrator, I found that it was very useful for preserving a number of things including tomatoes, squash, and leafy greens like goosefoot and amaranth.
In this article I discuss how to use a dehydrator for simple drying and dehydrating of plants and herbs, vegetables and fruits.
I have an excellent electric dehydrator from Excalibur, which makes my job easy. This brand is the one I recommend. You can buy other brands, and you can also find instructions for making solar and other kinds of dehydrators.
If you don’t have a dehydrator you can use your oven, putting it on its lowest setting and leaving the door slightly open.
My dehydrator get its greatest use in the fall. I dehydrate kale, apples, squashes, and other fruits and veggies. My cupboards get crowded with paper bags and glass jars of dried produce ready for my winter soups, stews, puddings, and apple crisps.
I take a very relaxed approach to dehydrating, not worrying terribly much about getting just the right temperature or just how long it will take.
Directions for Dehydrating
Here are a few suggestions for drying some of the produce that is still available at this time of year.
Note: I will sometimes dry 2 or 3 different things in the dehydrator at once, such as apples and kale. After a few hours I will check for how dry things are and take out the pieces that are ready to be put away, then continue drying the rest of what’s in the dehydrator.
I have found that I usually put the dehydrator at about 105 degrees F. and that seems to work for whatever I am drying.
- Kale: Strip the leafy part off of the midrib. The midrib will take forever to dry and is better either thrown in the freezer for soup stock or composted. Lay the leafy portions of kale on your dehydrator tray, flattening them as you can, and making sure not to overlap them. It is quite easy to feel when the kale is dry enough, and is often somewhat crumbly when done.
- Apples: I don’t bother peeling my apples, but if you don’t want the
peels, then take them off. I core the apples with an apple corer, then slice them across the cored area into rounds that are about 1/8 inch thick. If you get lumpy, wild-grown apples, it may not be worth trying to core them, and then just slice them from side to the other around the core. If you get bothered by your apples turning brown you can dip them into lemon juice before placing them on the trays of the dehydrator. Many of your slices will twist and buckle slightly as they dry. The apples slices are dry when they are leathery and have no moisture when you break a slice open. If you aren’t sure if they are dry enough, let them go a little longer. Also, storing them in a paper bag with allow for any extra moisture to evaporate rather than possibly molding as would happen in a glass or plastic container.
- Tomatoes: slice ¼ inch thick, clear out as much of the seeds as you can, place in a single layer on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate. The slices will be leathery when dry. (You will have tomato-y juice from slicing afterward, I like to put it in soups or drink i t.)
- Summer squash and zucchini: slice ⅛ to ¼ inch thick, place in a single layer on the dehydrator tray and dehydrate. The slices will be leathery to crisp when dry.
Winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, or kabocha: Cook squash first. The easiest way to cook the squash is to cut it lengthwise and place the halves cut-side down on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F. The squash is done when a fork easily pierces the skin and flesh. When the squash has cooled, scoop out the seeds and eat them, give them to the squirrels, or compost them. Scoop the flesh out of the skins and use a blender or food processor to thoroughly puree the cooked squash so you don’t have lumps, otherwise it will not dry evenly.
Using parchment paper or special sheets that come with some dehydrators, spread the pureed squash in a thin layer about ¼ inch thick. Proceed to dehydrate until thoroughly dry. The squash will easily lift off the sheet at this point, and will look somewhat like fruit leather. It is easy to see if it is still damp at any point and needing further drying. I break up the sheets of dried squash for storage. I use it in puddings and soups. Very convenient!
I hope you enjoy dehydrating your wonderful harvest, whether it’s a bushel of apples or just a few kale leaves. Let me know what you dehydrated and how it turned out in the comments section.