Preservation Tips and Tricks – Dehydrating

Congratulations! You made it through Canning 101! As I said, I personally find canning to be the most laborious of all preservation methods – the other ones that I’ve tried are much simpler, albeit somewhat limited in their usage.

Today, we’re going to talk about dehydrating.

Dehydrating is a good example of how a preserved product can be just as good or even tastier than the original product. I use a regular old dehydrator that I got as a Christmas gift from my parents – nothing fancy. I’ve done both fruits and vegetables on it and I’ve tossed around the idea of trying to do jerky but haven’t taken the plunge yet.

My experience with dehydrating is that it tends to caramelize the natural sugars and leaves you with a shrunken but very flavorful version of whatever you started with. Fruit that I’ve dehydrated at home tastes even better than candy. Dehydrated cherry/grape tomatoes are out of this world – they never last very long in our house!

Obviously, dried fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutritional value when you reduce their liquid, so dried produce shouldn’t be substituted for fresh produce. However, it is a really good way to make something new and different out of your excess. For example, around Christmas one of Jason’s co-workers always gives a a big fruit basket with lots of apples. We could never eat that many apples in a given week, so I sliced them up, sprinkled them with cinnamon, and set them out in the dehydrator overnight. They were a delicious AND healthy treat during all the crazy sugar overload of Christmas.

One word of caution when it comes to dehydrating: avoid trying to dehydrate things with lots of liquid and soft flesh. It takes a long, long time, and you’re left with very little substance once the water is gone. I tried drying oranges one year and it was a pretty miserable fail. Stick to firmer fruits and vegetables – apples, mangoes, strawberries, cukes, zucchini, and firm tomatoes are all great choices.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Wash and dry your produce and slice it into very thin slices (if you have a Mandoline, which I don’t, use it for this!)
  2. Lay out your sliced produce on the dehydrator sheets. They shouldn’t be touching, but they can be very close together.
  3. Turn the thing on! Mine only has one setting, so that’s all that I use.
  4. I usually set the dehydrator in an unused room overnight and by the next day, the produce is good. You’ll want your produce to be free of any excess moisture, and have a texture that is slightly chewy or even crunchy.
  5. Store in ziploc bags or mason jars. For added freshness, you can freeze your products.
  6. Be sure to clean the dehydrator sheets really well in between uses to avoid contamination.

I know there are other ways of dehydrating – harnessing solar power, leaving the oven door open and cooking them at a low setting, or even leaving stuff out to dry. For me, using my dehydrator presents the least amount of hassle. When I’m not using it, I store it in the basement with my canning equipment.

This year, I would like to try experimenting with sheets of waxed paper over the shelves so that I can make fruit rolls. I’ll let you know how that goes down!

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One Comment to “Preservation Tips and Tricks – Dehydrating”

  1. As a former chef I’ve spent a lot of time with mandolines, but they’re quite expensive. Instead, I have a V-Slicer, one of those as-seen-on-tv things that cost around 8 bucks. I love it, and use it all the time. It makes life a lot easier. Think I’ll have to pick up an inexpensive dehydrator this year, though.

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