Enjoy that fresh harvest taste all year. Whether you’re using a dehydrator, oven, or the sun’s rays, you can easily dry your own vegetables, fruits, herbs, and meat. Teresa Marrone’s simple step-by-step instructions cover all the basics you need to know about drying, storing, and rehydrating your favorite foods. With over 140 dried-food recipes — ranging from veggie chips to casseroles and beef jerky to baby purées — you’ll be amazed at the variety of healthy and delicious options that dried foods offer.
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About the Author
Teresa Marrone is the author of several cookbooks, field guides, and regional books. She is very active in her local food scene and has written food-related profiles and features for a variety of magazines. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Drying Foods at Home: An Introduction
Drying foods is a natural alternative to canning and freezing and benefits the family on a tight budget. This time-honored method of food preparation and preservation benefits the hiker, the camper, or the angler looking for a compact food supply light enough to carry in a backpack. It benefits the homemaker looking for delicious, healthful snacks to offer the family, and it benefits vacationers with two homes because drying is a safe way to store food over the winter. Drying is also an ideal way of storing foods for those who live in isolated locations where electricity to operate a freezer may be undependable or nonexistent, and it is a good way to stockpile an emergency food supply in a small storage area.
The goal of dehydrating is to remove excess moisture, reducing the water content to between 10 and 20 percent for most foods, so bacteria that cause decay cannot survive. Since dried foods are only one-half to one-twelfth the weight and bulk of the original food, a small, dry, cool closet can provide all the storage space needed for a winter's supply of food.
Because drying is a more natural method of preservation than canning and freezing, many people believe drying foods preserves more of the nutritional values present in raw foods, and a USDA study backs up this belief. While it is true that vitamins are lost in blanching, a pretreatment recommended for some vegetables before drying, this nutritional loss can be kept to a minimum if the foods are steam-blanched for no more than the specified time.
Almost any food can be dried by following the instructions in this book, which are aimed at preserving as much of the nutrients and flavor of the food as possible.
Will your dried food be as good as what you can buy on the market? Commercial manufacturers have the advantage of expensive freeze-drying equipment, but you have the advantage of sweet, tree-ripened fruit and just-picked, garden-fresh vegetables. Your own homegrown fruits and vegetables, or those bought at local farmers' markets or roadside stands, should be more delicious and nutritious than those the food processors have.
Why Dry Foods at Home?
In addition to the benefits described above, home-dried foods are a great option in many situations. Here are some of the reasons home-dried foods are prepared and used by so many people.
To Save Money
Drying is a safe, easy way to preserve foods. It can also save money when compared to other food preservation methods. You don't have to buy canning jars (or replace them when they break), and even if you do store your dried foods in canning jars, the lids can be washed and reused many times. You can store dried foods also in jars that are not suitable for canning, such as well-cleaned glass jars that originally held peanut butter, mayonnaise, and other prepared foods. Most dried foods can be stored at room temperature, a significant energy saving over frozen storage. And if you live in an area that has plenty of clear, dry, sunny weather, you can dry foods outdoors in the sun, which provides more free energy.
You will save the most money, of course, by drying fruits and vegetables from your own garden. Even if you don't plant a garden, though, you can still economize by drying foods at home. During the harvest season, fruits and vegetables can be purchased cheaply at farmers' markets, orchards, and roadside stands. Shares in a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program usually provide a bounty of dawn-fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruits throughout the growing season, at reasonable prices. Produce and meats are surprisingly inexpensive when bought in bulk quantities at co-ops and warehouse clubs. Choose only top-quality fresh produce and meats, and keep an eye on the place of origin if you're concerned about purchasing foods that have been shipped long distances. Watch also for specials on supermarket produce. Bananas flecked with brown, which often sell for half price, make excellent fruit leathers. Often, produce is marked down when a new shipment is due; this bargain-priced produce will work fine for drying as long as it is still wholesome.
Drying can also save you money by avoiding waste. Finely chop leftover cooked meat or vegetables and dry until crumbly; use another time to enrich soups, casseroles, or stews. Spread leftover sauces or thick soups on a solid liner sheet and dry until leathery, then rehydrate later for a quick meal when time is short. Purée excess cooked fruits in the blender, then make delicious homemade leathers as described in chapter 8.
Specialty grain products such as flax crackers, flavored pasta, and wholegrain cereals are expensive to buy, but you can make your own for far less — and control the ingredients as well. Unlike fruits and vegetables, flour, flax seeds, and cornmeal are available all year, so making homemade grain products is a good winter project that will pay handsome rewards later. To get some ideas of the possibilities, see chapter 9.
To Preserve the Harvest
When your garden is overflowing with tomatoes, the apples are piling up in the orchard, and the neighbors are leaving zucchini on your porch, get out your dehydrator and roll up your sleeves. Even if you plan to can or freeze some of your bounty, you'll find that drying offers an additional option that produces some very useful foodstuffs.
Plum tomatoes and other small varieties can be cut in half and dried, then used in place of purchased (and expensive) sun-dried tomatoes; larger tomatoes can be sliced and dried, then used in the same way. Dried apple slices make great lunchbox treats, and your home-dried apples won't be loaded with preservatives like most commercial versions. Zucchini slices, when dried, become a delightful, low-calorie snack, perfect for dipping; they also make a nice salad topper when crumbled. And of course, most of your dried fruits and vegetables can be rehydrated and used like fresh or canned foods.
To Save Space
Fruits and vegetables have very high water contents. Apples, apricots, and blueberries are approximately 85 percent water by weight, ripe tomatoes are almost 95 percent, and even firm, solid vegetables like carrots are over 85 percent. Dehydrating reduces the water dramatically, generally to 10 to 20 percent by weight. As the water is reduced, the food shrinks in size. Three pounds of fresh rhubarb (about 3 quarts of cut-up pieces) weighs just 3 to 4 ounces after drying, and measures about 2 cups (1 pint). The same amount of rhubarb would typically require four or five 1-pint jars if sliced and canned. So your pantry shelf may hold up to four times as much food that's been dried vs. food that's been canned — and dried foods take up even less room when vacuum-sealed in plastic storage bags.
For Selective or Restricted Diets
A small but growing number of people choose to eat foods that are uncooked, basing their diets primarily on vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, grains, sprouts, and other foods such as seaweed and coconut or nut milk. Raw-food and living-food diets often make extensive use of home-dried foods. A clear benefit of dried foods in the raw diet is that fruits and vegetables can be dehydrated when in season, for use during cold months. Dehydrated foods also offer textures and forms that add variety to the diet: vegetable crisps, for example, can replace baked crackers or fried tortilla chips as an accompaniment to raw dips. Crackers made from recipes designed specifically for dehydrating, kale or collard chips, and other dehydrated vegetable snacks also add variety to the raw-food diet.
If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, dehydrating can help. Many commercially processed foods are high in sodium, and it can be hard to find low-sodium products such as canned vegetables, crackers, convenience mixes, and even breakfast cereal. With a dehydrator, you can fill your pantry with healthful, home-dried vegetables, low-sodium snack foods, homemade veggie burger mix, powdered broth mixes that replace high-sodium bouillon, home-packed mixes for soup and other foods, and even homemade breakfast cereal — and you control the amount of sodium.
For the growing number of people who are allergic to gluten — a type of protein found in cereal grains — the supermarket shelves are a land mine because a surprising number of commercial products contain gluten. Home-dried vegetable crisps, as well as gluten-free crackers and chips prepared in your dehydrator, are a great alternative to commercial products made with cereal grains. Powdered vegetable flakes, broths made from dehydrated vegetables, and homemade veggie burger mix take the place of purchased versions. Home-packed soup and snack mixes replace supermarket versions that have hidden gluten.
It goes without saying that dehydrated vegetables fit perfectly into the vegan diet. Most home-dried fruits do, too, as long as you don't use honey dip. As noted above, homemade broth powders and veggie burger mix are healthful alternatives to commercial versions, and work well with the vegan diet. So too do many of the tasty vegetable snacks in chapter 9.
For Special Uses
Many people keep emergency supplies for times of adverse weather, power failures, or other catastrophes, and dried foods should always be included. When you're housebound in a blizzard, or facing empty shelves at the supermarket because of a hurricane or other natural disaster, you'll be glad to have a supply of wholesome dried foods and ready-to-cook mixes in the pantry or basement.
If there is a baby at your house, you can bypass the expensive jars of baby food on the grocer's shelf by making homemade baby food from fresh fruits and vegetables. You will also appreciate knowing exactly what goes into the food you're feeding to your baby, and preparing it yourself is the best way to ensure it meets with your approval. See chapter 8 for instructions on making and using home-dried baby foods.
Campers and backpackers often pack dried foods to save weight and space, and also to avoid the need for refrigeration. Home-dried fruits, vegetables, sauces, and even meats can be used to create a wonderful variety of meals. Dried mixes you pack yourself are far less expensive than commercially packaged freeze-dried foods and can be customized to suit your own tastes and appetites. See chapter 10 for recipes and packing instructions.
Dried foods also make wonderful, unique gifts. See chapter 10 for pantry gift ideas including soup, cookies, teas, and other edible goodies from your kitchen. You'll also find instructions for potpourris, sachets, and fragrance jars in chapter 11.
The Basics of Drying Foods
Dehydrating, or food drying, is an ancient method of food preservation in which moisture is removed from food so its final water content is generally 10 to 20 percent (depending on the food). Since the goal is to dry rather than to cook, gentle heat is used; most dehydrating is done well below 150°F. Circulating air helps move moisture away from the food; without air movement, the food may spoil before it becomes dry. The basic concepts haven't changed for centuries — but the specific techniques and equipment have.
Until the advent of food dehydrators at the end of the eighteenth century, drying food was a somewhat crude procedure. The food was harvested (or hunted), cut into smaller pieces if necessary, and, in the oldest days, simply set out in the sun to dry; typically it was spread out on mats, hung from poles, or laid on rocks. Sometimes, it was exposed to the smoke and mild heat of a fire, either inside a dwelling or in the open. American Indian tribes near the coasts often soaked fish or meat in salt water before drying, a technique that added flavor and also helped prevent spoilage. As wood- or coal-burning stoves became common in houses, foods were often strung on cords and hung near the stove to dry, which worked well since the stoves often were warm through the night.
The results of these early methods weren't always perfect. Sometimes the food spoiled before it was dry enough to store, or it wasn't quite dry enough and became spoiled during storage. Critters made off with foods that were in the open; sometimes the foods were contaminated with dust and dirt. Dried foods weren't as tasty and enjoyable as fresh foods: many fruits turned brown and became hard, vegetables were often tough and stringy, and meats were so hard that they were almost impossible to chew.
Today, we know a lot more about food safety and have a much better understanding of enzymes, bacteria, and other factors that affect food preservation and storage. This section shows eight basic steps in modern-day dehydrating, from food selection and preparation, to pretreating, to drying, testing, and storing the finished product. Dehydrating equipment is covered in chapter 3.
It's impossible to give an exact time for drying foods, regardless of the method used. Total time will be affected by the relative humidity and temperature the day you're drying; moisture content of the food will vary a bit too, and fruits or vegetables that were frozen often seem to contain more moisture than fresh produce. Each dehydrator works just a bit differently, and the more food you put in any dehydrator — manufactured or home-built — the longer it will take to dry everything. If you're sun-drying, you're subject to the vagaries of the weather. A range of times is given for each food in the chapters that follow. Check the food at the shortest time noted, and if it is not yet dry, check every 30 minutes or so, until it is done. Also be aware that some pieces in a batch may dry, more quickly than others; simply remove individual pieces as they are dry and continue drying the rest until all are done.
Drying Foods at Home
Choose fresh, wholesome foods at the proper ripeness. See general information in Food Selection and Preparation, and information on specific foods in chapters 4 through 8 on Fruits, Vegetables, Herbs and Spices, Meat and Poultry, and Leathers, Baby Food, and Prepared Foods.
Prepare your equipment and any necessary trays, racks, screens, or liners. For specific information, see Manufactured Dehydrators, Sun-Drying, Oven-Drying, and Home-Built Dehydrators, all in chapter 3. Unless you are sun-drying, you will also need a quick-read thermometer, small remote probe thermometer, or remote probe thermometer (see here) that measures temperatures between 90 and 160°F.
Assemble your tools, including sharp knives, cutting boards, a vegetable peeler, a wire-mesh strainer or colander, and clean towels. Depending on your pretreatment methods, you may also need measuring cups and spoons, glass or other nonreactive bowls, a stainless steel or other nonreactive saucepan or pot, tongs, a slotted spoon, kitchen parchment, and nonstick cooking spray. Also see Storing Dried Foods here for information about supplies and equipment needed for storing your finished dried foods.
Clean your work surface and wash your hands. Wash all fruits and vegetables, even if they will be peeled later. Prepare the food according to the instructions for each specific food in the chapters listed in step 1, taking care to cut each type of food (apples or carrots, for example) into uniform pieces so the batch dries evenly. If pretreating is recommended, refer to Pretreating Methods here for detailed instructions.
Spread the prepared food evenly on the trays (or racks, screens, or liners as appropriate) as directed in the specific instructions, keeping space between pieces and avoiding overlaps if possible. As each tray is filled, place it in the dehydrator (or other equipment/method) and start drying. Continue preparing food and filling trays until you have a full load or have prepared all the food you've selected. It is fine to combine different foods of a similar type and size, such as two fruits or vegetables, in the same load; however, don't dry strongly flavored foods such as onions in the same load with mild foods such as fruits.
Once all the trays have been started, make a note of the time and check foods as directed in the specific instructions. Some foods need turning or stirring occasionally during drying; depending on your equipment and method, you may also need to rotate trays and switch positions occasionally as directed in the instructions for each type of equipment or method listed in step 2. Don't add additional fresh food to a load that's been drying for longer than about 30 minutes; moisture from the fresh food may transfer to the partially dried food, increasing the time needed to complete drying. Test foods for dryness at the shortest time indicated in the instructions for each specific food; also see Testing for Dryness and Other Final Steps, here. To check the food, remove a few pieces and allow them to cool to room temperature, then inspect the pieces to see if they pass the doneness test given with each type of food. Dried foods feel softer when they're warm, so it's important to cool the food pieces before judging doneness.
Excerpted from "The Beginner's Guide to Making and Using Dried Foods"
Copyright © 2014 Teresa Marrone.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Drying Foods at Home: An Introduction
Why Dry Foods at Home?
The Basics of Drying Foods
Temperature Used for Dehydrating
Food Selection and Preparation
Testing for Dryness, and Other Final Steps
Storing Dried Foods
How to Use Dried Foods
Drying Fruits: From Apples to Watermelon
Preparing Candied Fruit
Recipes Using Dried Fruits
Drying Vegetables: From Asparagus to Zucchini
Recipes Using Dried Vegetables
Herbs and Spices
Recipes Featuring Herbs and Spices
Meat and Poultry (Including Jerky)
Dehydrating Meat and Poultry
Recipes for Jerky Marinades and Seasoning Blends
Recipes Using Dried Meat and Poultry
Leathers, Baby Food, and Prepared Foods
Fruit and Vegetable Leathers
Recipes for Fruit and Vegetable Leathers
Homemade Baby Food
Dehydrating Prepared Foods
Snacks, Cereal, and Specialties
Dried-Food Mixes for Pantry, Gifts, and Camping
Mixes for Your Pantry or to Give as Gifts
Mixes for Camping and Backpacking
Other Uses for Dehydrating Equipment
Drying Small Batches of Grains and Corn
Miscellaneous Culinary Uses
Drying Flowers for Potpourri
Miscellaneous Non-Culinary Uses