Like canning jars, food dehydrators seem to be regulars at the local thrift shop. I got mine, brand-new with receipts still attached, for a whopping $1.75 at the local thrift store a few years back thanks to a neighbor who volunteers there and snapped it up for me. It’s not fancy and it doesn’t have multiple heat settings like some of the fancier ones, but I’ve gotten a lot more than two dollars’ worth of use out of it in the last few years.
Dehydrating not only adds a bit of variety to the winter pantry, but it also allows you to make things that are a bit more portable than a jar of canned goods. Things like dried tomatoes, apples, or pears make a great snack for the children’s school lunches and are also good for adding to things (tomatoes to soups, the apples and pears to my Christmas mince pies!). And dehydrated food takes up less space in the cupboard which, judging from the endless sea of canning jars in my kitchen, can be a good benefit for the preservation obsessed.
A few tips before you start slicing and dicing everything and putting on the dehydrator:
- Make sure that food is fresh. I mean, really, really fresh. If the tomato has some bad spots, cut out a generous portion of good tomato around the bad spot. If you don’t, you’ll get off flavors, they won’t last as long, and they might discolor or, worse, spoil. If you wouldn’t can it, don’t dehydrate it.
- Use citric acid to preserve color and flavor. If you want your preschooler to eat the stuff you dehydrate, it’s best if its the right color. You know, red tomatoes, not brown. Creamy yellowish apples and pears, not brown. Not that I have anything against brown in general, but a quick bath in 1T citric acid dissolved in 4 c of water will keep the brown away. Oh, and skip the expensive fruit fresheners with added sugar, etc. Plain old citric acid from the drug store (the kind I have around the house anyway because I use it to make cheese) works just fine and is less expensive.
- Slice things evenly so that they dry evenly. I’m notoriously bad at this as my sisters and husband can attest, but I try to be good when I’m prepping food for the dehydrator. If there’s a wet spot in a single apple in your bag, you could get mold and spoilage. Slicing things in even thicknesses really does help. That’s why I have one of those nifty old-school apple corer/slicers. Because I’m just not that precise otherwise.
I think you can tell from my post that tomatoes, apples, and pears are my favorite things to dehydrate, but this year I’m also freezing a whole lot of fruit pulp that would make great sorbet or fruit leather! The children love fruit leather and I don’t do it much because of the messiness factor and the tooth decay factor, but in moderation, it’s a great treat. Herbs also dry really well on the dehydrator, although it’s so dry here that I can just hang them upside down somewhere out of the sunlight and they dry in a day or two.
I’ve also tried lemon peel, raisins, zucchini, and apricots on the dehydrator and although they’re edible, I probably won’t do any more. As usual, the Ball Blue Book has lots of ideas for drying things. As my brother learned when preparing food for my sister’s through-hike of the Appalachian Trail, things like onions and garlic taste great dried but stink up your whole house. Perhaps a solar dehydrator (you know, used outdoors) would be good if you really want to make your own onion or garlic flakes 😉