Preserving food by drying is easy and you don’t even need to purchase an electric dehydrator. There are several ways of dehydrating foods without electricity and each method works better for certain foods. I recently dried cantaloupe, cherries, mushrooms, peppers, basil, celery leaf, chives, chamomile, lavender, cilantro, and feverfew without a dehydrator or electricity. Of course these are not the only things that can be dehydrated. The possibilities are almost endless!
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Pick the food to dehydrate
Some foods lends themselves very well to drying. When deciding how to preserve a food its a good idea to think about how you will use the food in the future. It’s not worth it to go to the work of preserving something you will never use, or would be better stored in another way so have a plan before hand. I often eat our fruits as a snack, add the spices into foods dried and crumbled and use bulkier items as ingredients in soup.
Drying reduces the water content of the food and you will be surprised at how little food appears to be left when you are done. Don’t worry, it still has all the nutrients you started with, but be prepared for shrinking and preferably start out with a lot!
Prepare your food for drying
Food dries best when in small portions. Slices need to be no more then 1/4 inch at the most, the smaller the better. Leaves should be separated washed and dried. Items that are cubed should be as small as possible. If you are hanging plants upside down by the stem, tie them together in small bundles.
Place your dehydrating foods in a good spot
Look for an area that will not be disturbed, has good airflow, and ideally gets to about 90-100 degrees during the day. For really moist foods I tend to use the top of my car. It fits all those criteria for me. I prefer to dry small and leafy items in mesh bags. Flowers, and plants with the stems attached do well hung upside down. You can even dry foods on trays on your car dashboard. This works especially well because flies can’t get in.
Another method is to use a needle and string individual foods on thread for hanging. This works best with foods that will remain whole and are not fragile. I’ve dried oyster mushrooms, cranberries and chili peppers this way quite successfully.
Put away the dried food for storage
Each food will take a different amount of time to dry based on the water content and the nature of the environmental conditions. A good rule of thumb is to look for the cracker effect. If the food snaps in half like a cracker, it’s finished. If it bends, it needs to dry longer. Moist fruits should appear leathery or like raisins. Store it in an airtight container once it’s completely dried to keep it fresh. I prefer mason jars because they are pretty but reclaimed jars work just as well.
If you need to re-hydrate something for a recipe soak it in water the night before you plan to use it. Dried foods should store well until the next season, and will most likely lose quality after one year. It is so easy to dry foods and it requires so little equipment that it is my favorite method of food preservation and I almost always have something drying about the house.
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