I’ve never been good at canning. I harvest goodies from my rather garden and purchase the fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, then put them into that week’s dinners, bake a lot and freeze what I can. When I was gifted with a counter-top dehydrator a few years ago, I started experimenting with making my own dried fruits, vegetables and jerky with some of the bounty. These items store well for long periods and can be used “as is” or re-hydrated. Less storage space is required than with canning jars. I like making my own, because I know that there are no artificial ingredients or additives and I know where everything came from. Right now, for instance, grapes are in abundance and well priced; I make my own raisins because I prefer them without sulphur.
Dehydrating means evaporating most of the moisture out of a food (80 to 95 percent) by heating it over a low temperature for an extended period of time. That little food dehydrator has provided quality edibles at a fraction of the cost of packaged dried foods. You can also use your oven, but this can be very costly in the long run (not to mention hot). Sun drying is also possible in Hawaii, but this exposes the food to insects and other environmental contaminants.
Whichever method you choose, select produce that is not blemished or bruised. Food may need to be pretreated to preserve the taste, texture and nutrients. Fruits just need a simple ascorbic acid wash. This can be ascorbic acid crystals (Vitamin C), citric acid, lemon juice or other high-acid fruit juice. Vegetables can be blanched very quickly. Meat and fish are always treated with a “cure” of a salt or sugar to avoid spoilage. These methods are simple and fast. Try one or more of these recipes gleaned from “Dehydrated & Delicious” by Ron Popeil, creator of the Ronco food dehydrator. The last recipe is one I use often, from the Gerson Institute. Use your dehydrated goodies on your next camping trip or in salads, baked goods, sauces and compotes.
Peel firm, ripe bananas and slice evenly 1/4-inch thick. Dip slices in pineapple juice or lemon juice, then in granulated sugar. Place on dehydrator trays (not too close; use about three-fourths of the surface for food so air can flow in between) or baking trays and dry. Drying time: 12 to 24 hours in dehydrator or 5 to 6 hours in oven. Dryness test: firm, chewy and leathery texture. Refreshing: Soak 1 cup dried bananas in 1-1/2 cups hot water for 2 hours. Store for 2 to 4 months at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nectarines and peaches
Remove skins if desired. Drop fruit as it is peeled and halved into a solution of ascorbic acid and water (1/2 teaspoon ascorbic to 1 quart water). Alternatively, dip in pineapple juice. Drying time: 36 to 48 hours in dehydrator. Dryness test: soft, pliable, no moist area in center when cut. Refreshing: Soak 1 cup fruit in 2 cups hot water for one hour. Storage: 4 to 6 months at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash ripe, smooth-skinned fruit; cut in half and remove seeds. Peel; cut lengthwise into 3/8-inch slices. No pretreatment is needed. Drying time: 12 to 24 hours in dehydrator. Dryness test: leathery and pliable with no pockets of moisture. Storage: 4 to 6 months at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash ripe, fragrant, slightly soft fruit, remove spikes and peel. Remove eyes, slice or cut into 1/2-inch thick strips. No pretreatment is needed. Drying time: 24 to 36 hours in dehydrator. Dryness test: firm and dry to the center. Refreshing: Eat dried or soak in water for several hours in refrigerator. Storage: 6 to 8 months at 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sweet potatoes and yams
Wash and peel, then cut into strips 1/4-inch thick. Steam for 2 to 3 minutes or until almost tender. Drying time: 10 to 16 hours in dehydrator. Dryness test: leathery to brittle. Refreshing: Soak 1 cup potatoes in 1-1/2 cups water for a half hour or until tender. Cook same as fresh. Storage: 1 to 2 months at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use firm, ripe tomatoes with good color. Slice into sections about 1/4-inch thick. Steam for 2 to 3 minutes. Drying time: 10 to 24 hours in dehydrator. Dryness test: leathery to brittle. Refreshing: Soak 1 cup dried tomatoes in 2 cups water for 1-1/2 hours or until tender. Storage: 2 to 3 months at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Note: some tomatoes are sweet when dehydrated, and are great substitutes for fruit leathers. I like to snip them into salads when fresh tomatoes are not at their best.
Ranch-style beef jerky
Ingredients: 1 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 2 cloves garlic, crushed 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon snipped chives, 2 pounds round or flank steak. Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl. Cutting across the grain, cut meat into slices about 5 inches long by 1-1/2 inches wide by 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Dip meat slices into marinade. Place dipped meat in layers in a bowl or dish. Pour remaining marinade over meat. Cover tightly and marinate in refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours. Rotate layers of meat occasionally. Place a half-inch apart in dehydrator until dry. Blot excess oil with paper towels as meat dries. Makes about 1/2 pound jerky. Drying time was not listed in the book; jerky should be pliable but dry throughout. Remove pieces as they are done instead of waiting for entire batch to finish at the same time. Storage: about 2 months; longer in refrigerator.
A friend of mine was on an all-raw-foods diet, so I adapted this delicious snack (also good sprinkled on salads) from the Gerson Institute. I used organic ingredients and it is still more cost-effective than the tiny bags of kale chips she was buying in the health food stores.
Ingredients: 1 bunch kale, washed, spun dry and torn into bite-size pieces (will shrink as they dry), 1 clove minced garlic, 3/4 cup cashews, soaked 8 hours in water, rinsed and drained 1/4 cup nutritional yeast 1/4 cup water 1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1/2 teaspoon paprika In a food processor, with motor running, combine garlic, nuts, yeast, water, olive oil, and paprika. Process until smooth. Place kale pieces in a large bowl; pour nut mixture over and mix to coat. Carefully place kale pieces on dehydrator screens and dry for 4 to 6 hours or overnight, until crisp. Transfer pieces carefully to an airtight container for storage.