Dehydrating Foods - a Great Way to Preserve the Harvest
Since the beginning of time, people have dehydrated foods. It was about the only way of preserving foods long ago. If people wanted to save food to eat later, it had to be dehydrated. Thankfully we have moved past that stage of life, but drying foods is still a great way to preserve the bounty of summer. In fact, you can save a lot of money by dehydrating your own foods. Think about dried berries for instance. They are extremely expensive. Last time I bought dried blueberries I paid $7 for half a pound. This year though I dried my own at the price I picked them - $1 a pound. You really can't beat that do it yourself option.
I found a dehyrator this summer at a garage sale for $5 and have had fun with it ever since. I have dried strawberries, bananas, blueberries and apples. In the past I have used my oven to dry cherry tomatoes. I have to say the flavor of dehydrated foods is unbelievable. A much stronger flavor that explodes in your mouth. Truly delicious.
If you are just starting out dehydrating foods, I recommend trying your hand at it with your oven before investing in a dehydrator. If you find you want to continue, then you can purchase one. The good ones run $150-200, but trying to find one second hand is a preferred option of mine. One of the benefits of dehydrating foods is that they take up less storage space than canning and free up your freezer space for other foods.
The key to dehydrating is to cook the food slowly over a low heat to pull out all the moisture. Your oven will work just fine, sometimes even just having the food inside with the oven light on will work, but I found it takes much longer and it is hard to get air circulating. Try to keep the heat constant and the air moving to dehydrate your foods faster. When you are picking the foods to dehydrate try to use foods that are identical in size. For instance I dried a batch of larger blueberries and then I dried a batch of smaller blueberries. If you are cutting foods, try to cut the slices evenly. Make sure that there are no bad spots or it can spoil the whole batch.
If you are cutting fruit that turns brown when it is exposed to air, dip the cut fruit into a mixture of lemon juice and water to prevent this. I find it also gives the fruits a tangy flavor. You can also dip it in to orange juice and water for a sweeter flavor or into club soda for no change in flavor. Once dipped you could try sprinkling sugar or a cinnamon/sugar mixture on the fruit before drying. I am currently making a batch of cinnamon and sugar apple slices.
Dehydrating your own foods can save you lots of money at the grocery store. Instead of buying the instant packs of oatmeal that have the dried bits of fruit in them, you can mix up your own oatmeal adding your own dried fruits. This is much cheaper and better for you than the instant packs. Do you have a recipe that calls for sun-dried tomatoes? Sun-dried tomatoes are very expensive, but you can make your own for very little.
With a dehydrator you can dry herbs easily. I planted basil and oregano this year and will be drying them next week. Store bought spices can be very expensive. Some recipes call for dried pepper or dried onion. You can dry your own with a dehydrator. If you garden, drying your own foods is a great way to eat from your garden all year. But you can still save lots of money if you buy foods when they are at their lowest prices and dehydrate them for later use. Think about the blueberries I talked about earlier. We paid for them yes, but we still saved lots of money over buying them in the winter or buying dried ones. A dehydrator can be a really benefit to any kitchen and I consider it one of my frugal tools to help me save money.