Dehydrating: Drying Foods for Long Term Storage

When planning and planting your garden, consider how much produce you can use and how much you need. You don’t want to plant rows and rows of spinach only to have most of it go to waste because you can’t eat it fast enough and you find that you only enjoy it fresh. Most produce can be frozen, canned, dehydrated or otherwise stored to be used throughout the winter months when nothing is growing. Due to a variety of reasons (some more practical than others), our clan has been slowly moving away from freezing and focusing instead on canning and drying.

My parents have a small hobby farm with two gardens covering more square footage than their 5 bedroom farm house. Their gardens cover about 6,500 sq ft. This means that there is a lot of produce to store away. That may seem like an extreme amount of garden space for one couple, but our clan consists of 18 people.

We have 3 identical dehydrators belonging to various clan members that tend to rotate between who needs them at the time. Growing and drying your own herbs is another popular choice. You can make your own Italian seasoning or chili powder. I like to grow hot peppers, so I dry most of the peppers and grind them up for red pepper flakes to use in my homemade chili powder and to sprinkle on our weekly pizzas. Onions and garlic can be dried and ground to make powders, as well. Imagine a spice rack where everything came from your garden!

In the fall, everyone will be drying apples. I mainly use dried apples as snacks, but you can also use them for baking. Simply re hydrate and use as normal. They won’t be crisp, but baking will make them soft anyway. We have 2 black currant bushes that produce quite well some years, so I dry all the berries. I also dry strawberries, bananas and pineapple that I buy at the grocery store. The main use for dried fruits in our house is for granola.

We don’t eat commercial cereal, so I regularly make granola cereal. The kids enjoy selecting their own dried fruits to add to their cereal. It is something like a buffet. And what kid doesn’t like making some of their own decisions when it comes to food?

I bought the pineapple chunks in 100% juice and just dehydrated them as they were. The bananas and strawberries were sliced into about 1/4″ slices. I used one of those very handy apple peeler, corer, slicers on the apples. My kids loved helping with that, as well. I also put the apples into a solution of water and lemon juice (4 parts water to 1 part lemon juice) after slicing them in order to keep them from getting too brown during the drying process.

Beef jerky is another popular dehydrator snack. During our main sport season (all of my kids swim), I make beef jerky sticks about every other week to bring to meets. I also make jerky sticks when we are planning a road trip or camping trip. They are easy and delicious, and everyone in my house loves them. I also dry kale for kale chips and add some of my homemade garlic powder.

For specific drying times, recipes, and tips for use, look at the manual for your dehydrator. If you can’t find your manual or need a quick reference, you can check out the Nesco dehydrator manual PDF.

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