Wednesday, April 1, 2020

On Dehydrating Food

Why do I dehydrate?  Because it's kind of the fix it and forget it of the food preservation world.  If you're old enough you now have a Ronco infomercial playing in your head.  You're welcome.  I do love that part of the dehydrator process.  There's a bit of prep, some chopping or slicing, maybe a marinade if you're making jerky; but mostly it's a wash, slice, lay on try, and leave for like five or more hours.
Excalibur 3500B 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

We have an Excalibur 3500 dehydrator that we've been using for over 10 years.  I did quite a bit of research before we purchased an Excalibur.

In the research, I learned that having the heat element and fan at the back made tray rotation less necessary, and in some cases eliminates the need completely.  This also helps extend the life of your dehydrator, with less overheating issues.

I knew I wanted square trays, to provide us with more surface area in comparison to round trays.  Round dehydrators usually have a bottom heating element and the trays are round with a large hole in the middle for stacking and additional circulation.  This style requires more tray rotation and has reviews of quicker overheating and heating element burn out with use.

We've dried a lot of things, but mostly fruits and veggies with a bit of jerky now and then.  The seasonal produce sales are when our dehydrator gets the most use.  I buy a variety of fruits and vegetables and dry them for later use.

The things we dehydrate most often are:
  • Bell peppers - dried peppers go into my homemade taco and spaghetti sauce mix and occasionally soups.
  • Mushrooms - used the most on pizza, rehydrating to a meaty texture when placed on top of the sauce.  Also into soups, stews and crockpot dishes that call for mushrooms.
  • Celery - soups, stews, stuffing, and the like.  This will nearly dissolve and disappear in the cooking process.  
  • Tomatoes - great replacement for chips with creamy dips.  Adds a big punch of flavor to soups and sauces if ground into tomato powder.  
  • Apples - mostly just for snacking.  Can be used in baking, if they last that long.
  • Strawberries - a great addition to hot or cold cereal and quick bread recipes.  Also great for snacking.
  • Pineapple - like candy when dried.
  • Herbs - for use in future meals or homemade mixes.
  • Breadcrumbs - great for breading, adding to meatloaf, or sprinkle them on mac and cheese before baking.

We've also done blueberries, onions, cauliflower, spinach, kale, mango, bananas, plums, raspberries,  rhubarb, and zucchini.  We've even tried canned peas, canned corn, cooked rice, and cooked beans.

Herbs, fruits, and veggies don't take a lot of prep to dehydrate.  Most of them can just be washed, sliced or chopped and put on a tray.  Some of them need a little more be it pitted or parboiled before drying them.

To make your own breadcrumbs there are two options, depending on the components you have.  Option one is to dry slices of bread until very crisp, then you can crush with a rolling pin or grind in a food processor or blender.  Option two you will need a set of the drying sheets for your dehydrator, also known as fruit leather sheets.  Process stale bread in your food processor until it's the desired crumb texture, spread crumbs on drying sheets and dehydrate until crisp.

Foodsaver FSFSSL2244-000 V2244

You have all this dried food, now what's the best way to store it?  I suggest mason jars or resealable containers.  I would only suggest resealable zip-top bags if you plan to use up the dried food in a very short amount of time.

I'm a big fan of jars because we have a Food Saver with both a standard and wide mouth mason jar attachment.  The beauty of this is that you can put your food into jars, place the sealing lid on top of the jar, place the jar attachment over the lid, vac-seal and then add the jarring.

I use this method for my dehydrated food, but also for specialty flours, dried beans and other dry foods that we plan to keep for longer amounts of time.  I'd also like to point out that jars, lids, and rings are all reusable when used in this method.

You could also consider using the vac-seal bags if you need to save on space when storing your dried foods.  We choose jars because we have space for them, and reserve our bags for use in the freezer.

The Dehydrator Bible

If you're looking for a great book as a companion to your dehydrator I would suggest the Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer.  This book is full of great info, recipes and drying times for most anything you might want to try dehydrating.  There are recipes for jerky, fruit rollups and the like, as well as recipes for using your newly dried ingredients.

Do you have a dehydrator?  Are you underusing it?  Are you now interested in owning a dehydrator? 

Friday we'll talk more about preserving your food through freezing. 

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