Dehydrating

by

Rebecca Whitford

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             When I first got my dehydrator I used it for the ďnormalĒ things. I dried some banana chips and made jerky with a kit from the store. These were great but it wasnít until I got the books Putting Food By and my Ball Blue Book that I realized I could do a lot more with my dehydrator.

            I love to can a lot of our food but canning takes a good bit of time, not to mention, jars, lids etc. Whereas dehydrating is fairly quick and I can store my food in any jar or container afterwards plus dried food takes up a lot less space than canned. Not all foods are good dehydrated just as not all foods should be canned. I have learned from trial and error and am still learning. It is important to make sure anything you are dehydrating is thoroughly dry or your food will spoil but most of the time it is easy to tell if your food is dry or not just by feeling it.

            One food I really like dehydrated is mushrooms. I buy the mushrooms after they are marked down. I can usually get a container for $.99.  All I do is wash them, cut them in slices and put them on the dehydrator trays. You want them to be real dry feeling when they are done, you will be able to tell the difference, because they wonít bend easily and they will be stiff. I store mine in jars or those containers with the rubber rings and clip down lids. I use my dried mushrooms for about the same things as I would use them fresh. I put them in with steak, in omelets, soups, stews, roasts etc. I have also chopped them in a mini food processor until they were powdery and now have powdered mushrooms to sprinkle on roast and steaks or whatever I think it would be good on.

            I have dried lots of vegetables. Some have to be blanched for just a few minutes like potatoes, corn, carrots etc. but some can just go in the dehydrator after slicing. Onions dry well without blanching though one thing I learned was not to cut them too small or the fall down through the trays. Zucchini slices do not need blanching and dried zucchini pieces make a great snack when dipped in Ranch dressing. Any greens can be dried without blanching. I have a jar full of turnip greens which I add to soups and stews or anything I want to add some extra vitamins to. Celery can also be dehydrated but it really loses a good bit of its taste. I keep some just for soups or stews but found that drying the celery leaves give you a better flavor.

            Herbs are especially easy to dry and donít take too long. I have dried   parsley, basil, rosemary, mint, and even garlic and regular chives.  Of course you could just hang these in your kitchen to dry but the benefit for me of using the dehydrator for herbs is that I live on a dirt road and we have a lot of dust, which would settle on the herbs if just hanging in the house.

            Besides the mushroom powder I have also made my own garlic powder. One thing to remember about things like garlic and onions is that you might want to take that dehydrator outside if you can because it gets real strong smelling inside with onions or garlic in the dehydrator.  Either one can be put in a mini food chopper until they are powdered though they may take a while to turn into powder and need to be good and dry when you chop them. I am thinking of trying making my own ground ginger this year since I grew my own ginger root and also would like to grow some paprika peppers and make my own paprika. I have made my own dried cayenne pepper and it came out great.

            Other fruits besides bananas I have dried are apples and have even dried watermelon. The apples are easy. I slice them up, dip them in lemon juice and then dry them. Dried apple slices make a great dried apple pie, just rehydrate the apples in some water for about 20 minutes and make your apple pie like always.  The watermelon can be done the same way however you might want to remember that thin is not always better with watermelon because it will dehydrate down to nothing. A bit bigger chunk works fine.

            I have found two things that I would never dehydrate again. Those would be oranges and cucumbers. I am not sure what it does to an orange slice but it tastes terrible! The cucumbers were not so bad but they just didnít taste that great either. I thought they would make good chips like the zucchini but that just didnít work. 

            I did eventually learn how to make my own jerky without a kit too. I take whatever meat I am going to use and grind it up with our hand meat grinder. Any meat will do, I have used beef, chicken and rabbit so far. In a big bowl mix together these ingredients:

  • Ĺ  C. Worcestershire Sauce

  • Ĺ C. soy sauce

  • 1 tsp. Black pepper

  • 2/3 tsp. Garlic powder

  • 2/3 tsp. Onion salt

  • 2 T. liquid smoke

Add your meat (this will make enough for a pound to a pound and a half) and mix it together well. Let soak for at least a couple hours in the refrigerator. You can even leave it overnight. Then dehydrate it until it is good and dry. One year I gave rabbit jerky to everyone for Christmas, even those people who were a bit skeptical about eating rabbit meat, everyone loved it and wanted to know how to make it.

            I now have two dehydrators, neither of them cost a lot, one came from Wal-mart for $20 and the other I got at a thrift store, still new in the box, for $5.  There is nothing I like more than having them both dehydrators full, hearing the light whirring noise of the one with the fan and the great smells wafting through the house.