How To Dry Foods

Drying foods is often an overlooked method of preserving your harvest.

For centuries, a common method of preserving food has been through drying. It is both convenient and economical, as no special equipment is needed. foods can be dried outdoors, in the sun and air, or indoors, in a commercial dehydrator or oven.

When food is dried or dehydrated, 80-90% of the moisture is removed. The removal of moisture keeps the food from spoiling and allows it to be stored for a very long time. Other benefits of drying are that the natural sweetness and sugars of food remain as well as many natural vitamins.

To dry food outdoors you really need to live in a dry climate where sunshine is consistent. If you do live where the growing season is long, outdoor drying is very convenient. There are some vegetables that can be dried in the garden where they are growing. These are peas, beans and onions.

Peas can be left to dry right on the vine. When dry, you can remove them, pods and all, and store them in a container with ventilation. Many recommend a mesh bag. When you want to eat them simply hit the bag several times to break the shells off.

Beans (such as wax or green beans) can also be left to dry on the vine, but require more of an effort before storing. Remove them from the vine, blanch them in boiling water, then spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake at 175 degrees for 15 minutes before storing them in a cool dry place.

Onions can be pulled out of the ground, and left to lay in the sun where you pull them out. When the tops are dry and stiff you can braid them together and store in a dry place.

Before attempting to dry other vegetables or fruit they must be prepared, and usually you'll want to remove the skins. To do this, immerse the food in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then immediately immerse them in cold water. At this point skins can be gently removed.

Other vegetables or fruit that can't be dried on the vine can be dried outdoors on homemade screen trays. To make these you will need a wooden frame, non-metallic screen and tacks or a staple gun. Simply tack or staple the screen tightly to the frame. It should not sag when food pieces are placed on it. When you want to dry your food, put it on the screen so that no two pieces are touching. Set the corners of the tray on wooden blocks so air can flow underneath it and cover food with cheesecloth, held up off the food by wooden blocks placed in top corners of tray.

If you know you will have warm, dry weather you can place tray on a rooftop or stove or pavement. At night cover them with plastic if you don't bring them in. Although outdoor drying is easy and convenient it does have its drawbacks. Continual exposure to sun and air causes greater vitamin loss.

Now, if you live in a geographic zone where weather is unpredictable and inconsistent, like the other 2/3 of the world, you will want to dry your foods indoors. Indoor drying is faster, which allows food to retain more vitamins.

Food dehydrators can be purchased in most department stores and come with their own instructions. But if you're not ready to make that investment there are a simple methods of drying that one can easily do at home. They require more physical and household energy, however.

Take a box and line it entirely with thick foil. Place a single lightbulb inside the box but arrange it so it does not touch the box or foil. Research shows that a long life bulb in a porcelain bulb socket is recommended for safety. Find a cookie sheet or baking tray that will fit snuggly into the top of the box and blacken the bottom of it with appliance paint.

Another, simpler, way to dry indoors is in your oven. Preheat to 145 degrees. Place you produce on baking sheets, with no pieces touching, and put in oven. Leaving oven door open only slightly, reduce the temperature to 120 degrees, then increase it slowly to 140 degrees. Food needs to be exposed to 140 degrees for at least half of the drying time. Food should be turned or shifted every so often so it dries evenly.

The drying times for some common foods are as follows:

Apples: 8-12 hours

Beans: 10-18 hours

Broccoli: 12-15 hours

Brussel Spouts: 12-18 hours

Carrots: 10-13 hours

Celery: 10-16 hours

Corn: 12-15 hours

Grapes: 15-20 hours

Peaches: 36-48 hours

Spinach: 8-10 hours

Squash: 10-12 hours

Tomatoes: 10-18 hours

To store your dried food the commercial plastic storage bags are best. Keep it in a cool, dark place.

Dried fruit can be eaten as is but you need to rehydrate your vegetables. To do this, pour 1 1/2 cups of boiling water over 1 cup of dried vegetables and let them sit until water has been soaked up. Beans will require overnight soaking.

Drying food so that it is "just right" takes some experimentation but, once you know how to do it, it enables you to enjoy your harvest all year long.

© High Speed Ventures 2011