Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dry It -- You'll Like It!

My apologies to Gen Macmaniman for stealing the title of her book for the title of this post. Her book, published in 1973, was the first book on dehydrating we purchased. It was this book that started me on the road of experimentation with drying (not always successfully!) foods.

Recently I've noticed a few people posting about dehydrating their garden harvests. As Martha would say, "It's a good thing!" We've got two food dehydrators and have used both of them quite a bit over the years. You can't refute the fact that dehydrated foods (if dried and stored properly) have a long self life, aren't dependent on any energy source (once dehydrated) and take up much less space than any other method of food storage.

I haven't used our dehydrator yet this year but plan to dry most, if not all, of our onion crop when it's ready. (We just don't have a good place to dry our whole onions sufficiently. By the time we harvest them up here, the weather has turned cool and damp. We need an upstairs spare bedroom where we could lay them out on the floor. Or an upstairs spare room of any kind!)

Above we have dried onions, strawberries and zucchini chips, all from last year.

The onions reconstitute beautifully when tossed in soups or stews.

Isn't the color of the strawberries beautiful? That's their true color, the picture hasn't been touched up. I must be truthful here and admit the strawberries were a pain to do. I didn't have those plastic sheet thingies to spread over the racks of the dehydrator (I do now!) so the sliced strawberries stuck to the racks and I totally lost some of them that way. 'Course, the racks were a MESS to clean, too. But, oh, are the dried berries nice. I mix them in our gorp (trail mix) and in our homemade granola. Very flavorful. And they still smell just like fresh strawberries. I would have dried a quantity this year (all we have left is what you see in the jar --- but that is a 1/2 gallon jar) if our strawberry harvest hadn't turned out to be about half of what we had expected. Next year I'll get more put by this way. I hope.

I think I stumbled onto the idea of the zucchini chips several years ago when I was trying to use up overgrown zucchinis. (Nobody else has ever had that dilemma, right?) I slice big zuccs (3" in diameter or larger because the slices really shrink in dehydration) about 1/8" thick, sprinkle a mixture of garlic salt, dill weed, black pepper, and paprika on one side of the slices. You could make just about any kind of seasoning mixture you wanted. What about a little ground hot pepper? Chunky kosher salt? Oregano? Hmmm, I wonder what a little soy sauce sprinkled on would do? The slices come out very crunchy, like a chip, and make a good dipper if your dip mixture isn't too thick. I've had several people say I should market them, they're so good.

There are a whole bunch of informational books out there on dehydrating, and I should probably really study the ins and outs of preserving more of our food this way.

I have some extra blueberries right now but I'm a little skittish about trying them again. The first time they went from soft and definitely not dry enough to dark blue pellets with the consistency of gravel. But I think I am going to try raspberries this year for the first time. I imagine a dried raspberry would be really good as an addition to our granola.

Oh, lots one could do if one only had about twelve more hours in each day.


Erin said...

wow those onions look great! I never would have thought to dehydrate them. I dehydrate lots of stuff for my husband to take with him on his 6 month deployments on the ship, as he cannot take glass jars with him. I do fruit rollups and plain strawberries and they turn out fine doing nothing to them, but found if I blanch the blueberries before throwing them on the drying trays, it breaks the skin so they dry nicely like a raisin. This I learned after putting them in whole and he said they got moldy quickly out to sea. The ones that I blanched first kept the whole time!

Mama Pea said...

Erin - I'd love to have some dried blueberries but don't want to waste them as I did before.. So your way sounds the way to go. How long did you blanch them for?

Mama JJ said...

I've done blueberries before and I just dipped them in boiling water for about 15 seconds before laying them out on the trays. They still took a long time to dry, but they were definitely a lot more tender than gravel! (Some of them stayed puffed up and refused to shrivel, so I just poked them with a toothpick towards the end of the drying time---that did the trick.)

Erin said...

MamaPea - mine lasted a long time, but I might add that doing it that way made them small like muffin mix berries. Depends on the size of the berry I think. Check out this link, there is a whole discussion on the topic, lol! Even talks about soaking in apple juice? Let us all know how things turn out, since I too will be dehydrating my next batch picked. I better hurry, our season is almost over!

Erin said...'s the link:

yeah, my brain cells have definitely been taken by my children at birth, lol!

Mama Pea said...

Mama JJ - So how come none of the dehydrating books I've read have even mentioned blanching blueberries before drying? Huh? Did they WANT me to fail or somethin'? I'll definitely give them the 15 second blanching before putting them in the dryer. Thanks, m'dear.

Mama Pea said...

Erin - Thanks for the link. I'll check it out tomorrow when I'm not so tired. (Just finished going over finances and balancing checkbooks. Ugh. Whadda way to end the weekend.) Now I don't know if I should have a beer to unlax or just climb into bed.

Mama Pea said...

Erin - I just checked out the link on drying blueberries you provided. Now I'm thinking I'm not even gonna waste my time or the blueberries(!) trying to dehydrate them. Sounds like tricky business. I wanted them dried mainly to put in granola but now I may just freeze them (I did most of mine this way already and have made enough jam) because we have sprinkled defrosted frozen berries on our granola in the past anyway.

But sure do appreciate all the input, Erin and Mama JJ! Have a good one!

Melissa said...

Your zuch. chips look really good! Might have to try them. The info on bluberry drying is helpful. I tried them once and it was a total failure.

Have you read My Sister's Farmhouse Blog today? Ouch. I feel bad for her-wonder what's happening.

Mama Pea said...

Hi, Melissa - Yeah, dehydrating those little blue buggers seems to be not so easy. I'm forgetting it for this year although I'm sure I'll want to give it another go sometime in the future.

I have . . . and I've had a heavy heart ever since reading it.

Fiona said...

I love the zuch chips idea! I am up to my armpits in zucchini -- big monster ones too -- and I need some new ways to dress them up and feed them to the kids. Zucchinis in disguise (as yummy kid fare) are always a "good thing!" Thanks! BTW -- the strawberries ARE gorgeous!

Mama Pea said...

Fiona - Hope the zucchini chips work out for you if you try them. I would think they would appeal to the kids. I didn't discover them until after "my kid" was grown, but she won't even try them. I apparently forced too much zucchini on her in her formative years and she's never liked it in any shape or form.

RuthieJ said...

Those zucchini chips sound yummy. I've got a couple of zucchini "clubs" sitting on the counter and I'm going to try this in my dehydrator. Thanks for the inspiration Mama Pea.

Mama Pea said...

Ruthie - You're very welcome. Hope they turn out for you. (And how many calories can there be in a zucchini chip??!)