Oh the joys of dehydration. Easily my favorite food preservation technique. The options are countless in what one can do with a dehydrator. My passion for dehydrating started many years ago, because I was new to the idea of game meat, and simply could not stand the gaminess of deer meat. My husband being a hunter, something had to give, so I started making jerky. This solved my problem, as I was able to get rid of the gamey flavor that way. I had some good batches, some great batches, and a few horrible batches. It’s a learning curve. I had to learn to cut against the grain. That’s VERY important if you want to chew your jerky. I now eat deer meat no problem, and even often find beef to be flavorless in comparison.
This also happened to be about the time I started gardening. So of course, I tried out a few produce items. They didn’t turn out how I expected for the most part, but some things were big hits in my home. Fruit leather, dried Kale chips, marshmallows, and jerky continue to be some of the most popular snacks in my home.
It didn’t take long till I outgrew my little dehydrator and added a second, and even a third, to my collection. I started researching dehydrated foods and learned that it is the best way to maintain a high nutrient content while preserving foods. Dehydrated foods proved easy to store, for long periods of time. They don’t take up near as much space as their hydrated counterparts for most items, they are easy to grab on the go, shelf stable, great for rockhounding, eagle watching, or hiking adventures, the list goes on. Dehydration is easy, convenient, and a great way to reduce food waste. it wasnt much longer before I was gifted a really nice dehydrator for Christmas. I gifted one of my smaller ones to someone who just wanted to try it out. I now have a large dehydrator, and two small ones. It is not unusual to come in during harvest season and find all three of them running.
That new dehydrator changed the game. It’s a countertop accessory that never gets put up in a cupboard “till next Spring”. I find that it has so many uses when I am not using it to preserve food. I often have a half container of berries left that won’t get eaten before they are bad. Solution. Toss them in the dehydrator to add to the jar of dried mixed fruit. Dog treats didn’t get as crunchy as you’d like in the oven. Solution. Toss them in the dehydrator. Or even just find a dehydrator dog treat recipe and skip the baking all together. I even use this dehydrator to make yogurt. It’s highly programmable, and it works perfectly for holding the temps I need for my yogurt recipe.
Harvest time brings an abundance of produce. Saving your haul for long term use by dehydrating it is one way to ensure healthy food when it’s not harvest time. It’s also quite handy when you have just one or two items ripe. Not enough to justify pulling out the canner? No problem, just dehydrate them. No room in the freezer? Dehydration.
The things you can dry are endless. From the frivolous, marshmallows, to the practical, long term food storage. Everyday healthy grab and go snacks that your family will love. Worried about the electricity going out or no room in your freezer? You can dehydrate frozen produce too. It’s already been processed and blanched for you. All you need to do is dump them on the tray and hit “go”. I often do this when I find things like frozen mixed veggies on sale. 10 lbs of frozen mixed veggies will fill one half gallon mason jar when dried. Looking for lightweight backpacking foods? Again, dehydrated foods to the rescue.
I am often able to use my dehydrator for other uses one wouldn’t normally consider. When I canned two bags of mandarin oranges this summer, I had zero waste, because I turned the rinds into candied orange peels in the dehydrator, and was left with a nice big jar of citrus simple syrup as well. Some of those candied orange rinds are going straight into some chocolate. I keep banana peels on one shelf, that I can grind up into fertilizer for my garden this Spring. I often save things like broccoli stems to dehydrate and grind to a powder to add to soups and such. The waste elimination is amazing!
Dehydrating foods is as easy as prepping them and placing them on the racks, and then waiting till they are dry. Prep often includes blanching your prepped produce briefly or putting citric acid or lemon juice on to prevent browning. Citric acid and lemon juice will produce a sour taste that you obviously don’t want on all of your dried foods. Blanching stops the enzyme process that causes browning to occur.
When your food is dry, let it cool, and test to make sure there is no moisture left that could cause spoilage during storage. If there is moisture remaining, just keep going till there is not.
Do not, I repeat, do not, overdry meat products! That was one of my initial fails. Trying hard to make sure I got all the moisture out, I ended up making meat powder. Unpalatable meat powder. Trust me on this one. Do not overdry your jerky!
If you are on the fence about dehydrating your own foods for preservation, I highly recommend that you take the plunge. If you have questions, feel free to drop them below and I will do my best to answer them.