Though people for thousands of years have preserved food by drying, this art has become less common in modern America. Dehydration of food is most popular with gardeners and small farmers who have large amounts of vegetables or fruit to preserve. And hunters have learned to make venison jerky with dehydrators.
A dehydrator can also be a friend to singles, empty nesters and people who are away from home a lot. It can make a variety of vegetables available in the amount needed for daily meals with no waste. Most dried vegetables are ready to eat after being soaked in hot water for a few minutes. They taste good and have all the fiber and nutritional value of the original product, though the texture may be different. Even people who do not care for dried vegetables as a side dish usually enjoy them in soups, casseroles and stews or added to frozen meals and canned soups.
Backpackers use home-dried food to make noodle dishes and soups wherever water can be heated. Some dried vegetables like whole kernel corn are good eaten out of hand as a snack. Dried fruit makes good pie filling and cobblers — and is also a healthful snack.
Dried vegetables and fruit will keep for a year, and a lot of food can be stored in a small space. A serving of most dried vegetables is only 2 to 3 tablespoons, though dried greens are more bulky.
Dehydrators do a better job of drying foods than an oven because most have fans to circulate air and the food is dried at lower temperatures. Veggies dry at 125 degrees, fruit at 135 degrees and jerky at 155 degrees. There are two common designs of dehydrators: round stackable trays that sit atop a base and cabinet models with trays that pull out. Users of both types find that drying is more even if trays are shuffled bottom to top periodically or turned. Leafy greens like spinach dry in about 6 hours, most vegetables in about 12 hours and fruit takes longer.
It helps if food to be dried is cut in uniform pieces. Cook, or blanch, vegetables before drying if they are typically served cooked. Vegetables that are eaten raw can be dried raw. Frozen vegetables from the store have already been blanched and can go right on the dehydrator trays. Vegetables and fruit that turn dark when peeled can be dipped in an Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) bath. This product is available in stores in the canning supply section.
Fats do not dehydrate: some hunters dehydrate canned pork and beans; discarding the pork first. Canned fruits and vegetables can be dehydrated, though it is wise to rinse sugar syrup off fruit to avoid a sticky mess. Such products canned in syrup can be pureed and dried to make fruit roll-ups. Kids may eat jerky and fruit roll-ups as fast as they can be made, so finding hiding places for the goodies may be a necessary part of the dehydration process.
Preparing foods for dehydration is as easy as getting them ready to freeze, but the dried foods are safe from electric outages and freezer break downs. Dehydration is a time-saving method for busy career singles as well as “back-to-the-land” enthusiasts.