dehydrating foods at home

Dehydrated (or dried) foods are different than the freeze-dried foods that I discussed in last week's post. They tend to have a firmer texture and exhibit more natural browining than freeze-dried foods. Dried foods store well, are easy to use and would be a great addition to any three-month supply. You can buy dried/dehydrated foods at the local grocery store.

The biggest advantage of dehydrated foods is that you can also dry and preserve your own foods at home. You can store many of your own garden herbs, vegetables and fruits this way. You can also purchase cheap seasonal produce and dry it at home. You don’t have to have a dehydrator to dry your foods. It can be an easy (fuel-less) method of food preservation and you can dehydrate almost anything – fruits, vegetables and meat (jerky)! You can make fruit leather, fruit chunks, banana chips, dried onions, tomato powder, sun-dried tomatoes, dried veggies, etc.

Basic Instructions
Cut parchment or freezer-wrap paper (glossy side up) into the shapes of your cookie sheets or Pyrex cake pans (do not use plastic wrap or waxed paper – they will melt and stick). For fruit leather, cut the paper to overlap up the sides of the pan. It's helpful if you lightly spray (and wipe to spread) a little vegetable oil spray to coat the paper. The dried food doesn't store as long, though, if you use oil. [In a pinch, when I didn't have any paper to line my trays with, I've used vegetable spray directly on the cookie sheet. The leather didn't peel off neatly, though.]

Thinly slice fruit or vegetables or puree for leather (recipe below). Place slices or fruit puree onto the trays and place in your car, oven, or in the sun (see below for instructions).

Easy Fruit Roll-Ups
Blend any combination of fruit in blender.

berries (for color)
applesauce (for sweetness or to extend your fruit)
lemon juice (to keep fruit from browning)
honey (to balance the tartness of the lemon juice or to add sweetness)

Pour into pan (at least ¼ inch thick). You want it to be thicker than you think! Wrap finished fruit leather in plastic wrap. Store in a dark, cool place. (Mine never makes it to storage – my family loves it!)

Car Drying (my favorite)
My husband thought I was crazy the first time that I did this – but he’s a believer now. He laughed as I made apricot fruit leather and carried the trays out to place in the back of our old yellow Toyota Celica. He laughed until I carried beautiful trays of perfectly dried apricot leather into our house the next day. I remember my Mom doing this in our old brown Subaru.

It MUST be a completely sunny, warm day to do this (85 or above). If it is overcast at all, it won’t work. Move your car out into a sunny place on your driveway or in the street. If your car has tinted windows, then make sure you put the trays in the front seats. The trays do not have to be in the sun. Leave your windows up and leave the trays alone. I've even driven around town with trays in the back. Your car will smell wonderful! It can take up to 2 days for items to dry. If after 2 days, items are not done, then move to oven method to “finish.” This method doesn't work in very humid climates.

Sun Drying
On a dry, sunny day (at least 85 degrees), place thin slices onto trays and cover with cheesecloth (to keep the bugs off). Place in a sunny place (like on a porch). This method doesn't work in high humidity.

Oven Drying
Set your oven on the lowest temperature. The ideal temperature is 130 to 150 – any higher will cook it more than dehydrate it. Open your oven door slightly. Place oven-safe trays inside oven and check regularly. Oven drying can take many hours. Several times I've had to turn my oven off while I go to bed and turn it back on the next morning. I use this method to “finish” dehydrating if weather turns overcast with above methods.

Mine cost about $45 and came with 4 trays. I have added trays and have purchased “fruit roll trays” because we use them so much. Instructions are included. This is an easy method – but has more upfront cost.

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