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Dehydrating: Preserving the Harvest

Preserving our produce in a variety of methods can be done to extend our garden’s harvest season. Today I would like to discuss drying [dehydrating] our fruits and vegetables and how to store them once they are completely dry. Most people interested in dehydrating foods usually run out to the department store and buy a dehydrator to set on their countertops. Not only is this costly in terms of initial output. It also requires electricity to power the machine.

We should have most of what is needed for drying our produce already in our kitchen. What we may be lacking is relatively inexpensive, easy to find and reusable. We can dry all of our fruits and vegetables using little or no electricity or gas in the process.

Equipment

  • Two or more cookie trays – the kind with sides.
  • Plastic canvas – to fit in the bottom of our trays. This can be purchased at craft markets, fabric stores, and sometimes in the craft area of your local Wal-Mart or Target.
  • Cheesecloth – to cover our trays [to keep bugs out]. This can usually be found in the house wares departments of Wal-Mart or Target. I have also found it in my local health food store and online at Amazon. I have also found that a worn, white T-shirt works just as well, maybe better as you can slide the trays inside them and not worry about the trays getting easily uncovered.

Drying your Produce

Decide what you are drying and how much.

  1. Wash and dry your cookie trays and place the plastic canvas in the bottom of each tray to be used.
  2. Cut your veggies into ¼ inch to ½ inch slices. Heavier, or denser, veggies will take longer to dry than those that weigh less as they contain more water. So you may want to make them thinner when cutting them up.
  3. Fill your trays – one level deep, please, so they will dry faster. It also helps to leave a little room around each slice.
  4. Cover trays with cheesecloth. Place in a warm place to dry. If the day is hot and you have a table or other flat area outside in the shade then place your trays outside out of direct sunlight to dry. Direct sunlight will breakdown the nutritional value of your produce. Drying outside is quicker than drying indoors and will not have any expenses due to energy usage. If you are unable to dry outside, using any flat surface indoors is a great option as well. One of the handiest places for indoor drying is to place your trays on top of the refrigerator. It not only leaves your counter top free for other projects, it also has the added benefit of the heat that rises from the refrigerator to speed up the drying process. If you are in need of quicker drying, you may place your trays in your oven to dry. Pre-heat your oven to the lowest setting, 150-200 degrees. Check your trays occasionally for dryness by trying to break one or two pieces of produce. When your veggies break easily and you hear the crispness in their breaking, they are dehydrated and ready for storing.
  5. Pack your dried veggies in Ziploc bags, dry canning jars with lids securely tightened, seal-a-meal bags or in vacuum-sealed bags or containers. These can be safely stored on your pantry shelves 4-6 months if kept dry, or in your freezer for up to a year.
  6. Repeat the process until you have dried all of your chosen produce and put it up for future use.

Practice Drying

An easy fruit to practice with is bananas. Slice in ¼ inch slices and lay out on your trays as described above. You may want to dip in lemon or lime juice to avoid discoloring before setting out to dry. When your bananas are dry, the time it takes to dry them will give you some idea how long it will take for other things to dry.

Using your Dried Produce

Dried veggies can be put right into your stews and soups about 30 minutes before the dish is finished cooking. Dried produce can be eaten right from their storage containers as quick, healthy snacks.  Dried veggies can also be used to make casseroles. For example about 2 cups of dried, sliced potatoes can be made into Scalloped Potatoes by following your favorite recipe and adding about 2 ½ cups of boiling water to your potatoes when putting your dish together.

Dried fruits can be re-hydrated in a little water and used in pies, cakes or cobblers like you would fresh, canned or frozen varieties. You can also add to cookie dough and a little extra liquid added to give them the needed moisture to plump them up almost to their pre-dried state.

Drying Herbs And Flowers

Drying your herbs and flowers is easy, too.

  1. Place your herbs and flowers into small bundles tied together with some pieces of twine.
  2. Hang your bundles with the cut ends up either outside away from direct sunlight or in a cool, dark room – like a storage shed or in your pantry. Putting them with the cut ends up sends the nutrients and colors into the blooms of your flowers or the leaves of your herbs as the water evaporates from the cut ends.
  3. Using a length of twine to string across your drying area like a clothes line will allow you to pin your bundles from the line with clothespins while they dry.
  4. Store your dried herbs as described above for fruit and veggies.
  5. Use your dried flowers in arrangements to beautify your home or brighten the day of a friend or loved one. They will last indefinitely.

Experiment with your bountiful harvest of dried produce, herbs and flowers; you may just create a great, new favorite dish in the process. Enjoy!

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

50 comments

  1. Can i use a dehydrator.?

    • RE-READ the very first paragraph…where the author addresses an ALTERNATE to using an electric dehydrator to save kitchen counter space and/or electric power!

  2. I saw on a TV show on survival, you can use racks placed in a car – the temperature inside a car can be the perfect environment for dehydrating food.

    • Linda, that may be true (it does get really warm inside a car) HOWEVER, please don’t forget that cars, especially newer models, are totally filled with plastic/petroleum materialsw which may leach chemical fumes when they get hot! Ever notice that your car smells especially strong when you first get into it on a hot day? Just a thought, but I’m not sure that the dried food would be desirable if it were coated with chemicals!

  3. Off The Grid Editor

    Absolutely, owlman! This article was addressing dehydrating in an off-grid situation. However, it might be helpful to practice doing so without a dehydrator so you have the mechanics down pat in the event we’re ever faced with a long-term off grid situation.

  4. I have a new dehydrator that I’ve been experimenting with. What I need is a source of “how to’s” and a bunch of recipes. Can we come up with some here?

    • Check with your County Agent (Agricultural Extention Agent) or the land grant college in your state (here in Texas that would be Texas A&M, in New Mexico; NMSU, and so on). Every state has one. Pennsylvania and Iowa are especially helpful in producing publications. Also check with the USDA.

  5. THANK YOU FOR THIS INFO. WHEN I WAS A YOUNG BOY I REMEMBER MY PARENTS DEHYDRATING
    FRUITS OUTSIDE ON A SHEET OF ROOFING TIN AND I HAD FORGOTTEN ALL I THOUGHT I KNEW ABOUT IT & THIS ARTICLE HAS BROUGHT BACK SOME OF IT…
    I MUST SAY THAT I LIKE THE INFO VERY MUCH & THAT YOU DO A GREAT SERVICE FOR US …
    AND YES I WOULD LIKETO HAVE THE FREE BOOK ON “CANNING & PRESEARVING FROM MY GARDEN.
    ALSO AS A BIT OF INFO FOR BEING PREPARED FOR ANYTHING THAT MIGHT HAPPEN TOKEEP YOU FROM BEING ABLE TO PREPARE FOOD, I AM GOING TO GET A MOTOR HOME TO HAVE ELECTRICITY &
    EXTRA STORAGE FOR FOOD AND FOR GOING PLACES ALSO…

  6. Cookie sheets are great, another drying medium would be a window screen, it allows air flow from top to bottom.

    • screens work very well. growing up in fresno california all the apricots and rasins were sun dried on slated wooden trays. This allowed good air circulation plus allowed for easy stacking of the trays to cover in case of rain before they were dried. The apricots were put into a sulfer tent before being put into the sun to keep away the bugs and flys. I now have a excalabor dehydrator and love it. I use a mandalin slicer to get uniform thickness. This makes the process go much quicker. We dry fuji persimon sliced 1/4 inch thick and they take aprox. 8 hours to dry.

  7. It really is hard to dehydrate in the summer time in the south with the humidity! Having a dehydrated is also difficult but much better to use.

    • This is very true, I have tried and have known a number of people who have tried to do this in the humid south and have had a serious problem with the food not drying. (Clothes often have a hard time drying as well) A small electric dehydrator is not expensive and can be used with solar electricity.

  8. We place our herbs loosely in paper bags and place them in the car. It only takes an hour or so for them to dry out in the summer. In the winter the car is in the sun and it takes only a couple of hours to dry the herbs we plant indoors. Haven’t tried it with any other veggies though.

    • Hi Dan,

      How in the world do you get your herbs to grow, inside, in the winter?
      Mine always end up dying off. They start off great, then they droop & die.
      I don’t over-water, and they have a Southern exposure. My house plants
      grow excellent, but I can’t get the herbs to grow inside. Outside is another
      story!! The herbs go crazy!! LOL

  9. This past summer I hung some fresh parsley to dry. It was in the shade on the back porch and It dryed a pale green,Is this normal?
    BBenzoc

  10. Dehydrators can be purchased from $50 to $200. Try e-Bay, Kijiji or Flea markets for better deals. Dehydrating retains enzymes , crucial for digestion. The cost of electricity is minimal as the setting you use for most food items is 108 degrees, while the conventional oven is 350.
    You can dehyrdate all year round, not just your everyday veggies, but apple slices, banana chips, kale chips, b-qes onion rings,tomatoes, apricots, many gluten-free dishes as granola(with buckwheat) bagels, numerous crackers, cookies as carob cashew fudge cookies, lemon chewies, pecan tart shells, onion bread, lasagna, veggie burgers, falafels, latkas, buckwheat pizza crust.

    I have no need for a conventional oven, but I sure wouldn’t give up my dehydrator.
    Alexi Bracey
    Raw Food Chef
    http://www.stovelesscuisine.com
    416-899-2774

  11. I tried drying outside using nylon mosquito netting covers for the trays.
    The yellowjackets chewed holes in it to get at the food! I reckon they
    could chew through cheesecloth and tee shirt fabric too. Maybe screen wire would work better.

  12. My maen hunt and we have deer meat and every body likes jerkey.I grind the meat, press it though my cooky press into long strips and drey them in my dehytrator. I us only four trays at that the strips dry overnight. I store the jerkey in glass jars but it never lasts long. The grandkids can’t get enough of it. I tryed it in the oven but it takes to long.

    • I like this idea, but do not have a cookie press. Could I have your receipe for what you put into the mis befroe you grind it? I’m thinking that I could grind it in my meat grinder and then place it on a sheet of waxed paper. press it down to flaten it, put another sheet of waxed paper on top, roll it out to 1/4″ thickness with my rolling pin, then cut it into strips. Would that work?
      Kate

  13. One year I sliced and dried strawberries. They really retained their flavor, and were the MOST REQUESTED treat for the youngsters! I stored them in a gallon jar, and that whole jar was gone in no time!

  14. dehydrate2store.com is an amazing web page with tons of videos. I loved it.

    • I have to agree with rusty about dehydrate2store – I have found them to be extremely helpful. And there are tons of videos on youtube showing you how to dehydrate just about anything and everything. I own an Excaliber and keep it busy. We live where it can be very humid and that makes it tricky to get things dried well. In fact, you may get it dehydrated really well and two days later, it’s sucked up moisture out of the air like crazy. I had okra do this two summers ago when it was fairly wet. I put the dehydrated okra in a ziplock bag, sucked out the air, put the bag inside a plastic container and shut it down tight. The okra still swelled up in two days. I’m doing a lot of dehydrating in the winter as it’s lower humidty then especially with the woodstove going in the house. Find a produce stand and ask to buy from them by the case/box. You might get a better deal! Even a small grocery store.

      • Hi,
        Have you by any chance tried using an oxygen absorber with a mylar bag?
        This is how I store my dehydrated vegetables and fruits, and I have had no problems at all.
        You can also place the veg/fruits in a jar, and put an oxygen absorber on top and close the lid tight.

    • dontfencemein1979

      This is one of my favorite resources as well. We also use Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cook Book, and Making and Using Dried Foods. Both have excellent recipes to go along with the instructions so you aren’t left wondering how to use all that dried food!

  15. Is there any chance that you could make it possible to print these articles WITHOUT the comments included?
    I don’t do facebook or twiiter..
    Thanks

    • I just cut the article that I want to print and paste into an email to myself
      then print the email when it arrives.

    • Off The Grid Editor

      Sandey,

      If you click on the “Print this article” link at the top of the page, it gives you the article without comments or advertising. Then simply click on your “File” button at the top of your web browser, scroll down to “Print” and and click it. The article should print without comments or advertisements.

    • I just did a copy and paste into a word document. I was surprised that I didn’t even have to delete pictures after I pasted into the Word document. Nice.

  16. Jerkey recipe
    ( I make Canada goose jerky!!)

    cut meat into thin strips, marinate overnight in:
    1 tsp garlic powder
    1 tsp seasoned salt
    1 tsp black pepper
    1 tsp onion salt
    1 tsp Liquid Smoke
    1 package of red peppers from Pizza Hut (1 tsp of dried red peppers or more if desired)
    2 Tbsp sherry
    2 Tbsp soy sauce
    2 beef bouillon cubes dissolved in a mug of hot water

    You can substitute 2 Tbsp of Worchestershire sauce for the soy sauce or
    Chinese style Chili sauce for the red pepper.

    I start it in my dehydrator after dinner, rotate the racks top/bottom just before I go to bed
    and then leave overnight and take it off the trays in the morning. Yumm.
    I haven’t done this since we got a cat because I don’t think it would last until morning ;-)

  17. For Sandey,
    I copy and paste the articles to “WORD”, print, & put them in a binder so I have a paper library and reference for later. I didn’t used to like to read comments before but these people have alot of good things to say, so keep it up!

  18. how about a sunroom? It gets really hot in there!!!

  19. I really enjoy the comments and at 72 yrs young, am still learning a lot. Keep it up. Have a great day and God Bless.

  20. Does any one have some tried and true recipies for dehydrated fruits and vegetables?

  21. We are looking at turning a Geo Metro into a solar dehydrator. Park it in the shade, put screens at the top of the two front windows, a solar fan in the back to circulate the air. We want the air to move and dry the food without the car cooking it. We also want to keep out bugs/flies and ventilate the car to help avoid the plastic/chemical stuff from the heat. Air out the car good before you shut it up with the food. Don’t leave the car in the direct sun – these little buggers get hot with all those windows. :-) When we try this, we’ll let you know how it works.

  22. This is just GREAT INFORMATION. Thank You! Keep up the good work.

  23. In Texas, it is too humid to dehydrate foods outside. But dehydrators work well. We have two!
    Does anyone know how to dehydrate eggs? Since it is nearly impossible to get dehydrated eggs on the internet now, maybe I could make them myself to get prepared…

    • Hi Linda, I dehydrate eggs quite often and after several trail and errors, here is the best method.
      ***Note: Plan on setting up the dehydrator outside while dehydrating; the smell of drying eggs is very over powering and will make you and your family gag!!
      Whip eggs without any other ingredients, as they will slow down the dehydrating process.
      Cook the eggs over med heat until cooked; finally chop into very small pieces( otherwise it will take much longer to dehydrate). Place on dehydrator in a single layer with space between the pieces.
      Set heat @ 125-135 degrees; 7-9 hours.
      I have found that dehydated eggs are best used for baking, so I ground the eggs into a fine power.
      Good luck!

    • I just whip the eggs and throw them on a plastic tray in my dehydrator. When they are done, I grind them to a powder. Its works well, especially when you have chickens and a larger quantity of eggs.

    • I did some when I first got my dehydrator. I dehydrated them raw. I separated yolks and white and dried them in the little fruit rollup plastic trays my dehydrator came with. They were delicious.

      Weston Price said dehydrating in the sun increases nutrients; maybe it depends on the food.

      I don’t bother with recipes, I just throw things I like into whatever I am cooking. Try it. Strange combos can be delicious adventures.

  24. We have a Ronco brand I bought some time ago. Overall they are good, but, take up counter space, must be plugged in and doing a lot at a time is not possible. Then I looked up some ideas on something you could do yourself in the backyard, and the internet has some great ideas. One was to build a “box” out of plywood, where you used old oven racks that were slipped inside the box on simple wooden “rails”. This box had some screen vents as well. The other idea was that you built your own simple screen racks (out of metal screen, you can buy in rolls at local hardware store). Make sure your built box is vermin proofed, as mice would love to get inside. I figured one built with a frame to accomodate legs, then framed out with the screen vent stapled into strategically placed spots. Make one big enough to accomodate a decent sized garden harvest. As well, get some pectin and make a jam of fruits you have leftover, on your screens, you could lay out some silicone mats (in your kitchenwares department) on your screens and spread the jams out, dehydrate till it is pliable, leathery, and then transfer to waxed paper and roll up, cut into sections and store. Voila, fruit leather, kids will be thrilled (puree some citrus fruits, make the “jam” out of those and you will have some good for them fruit leathers, full of vitamin C). As for sugar content, looking up recipes to reflect your tastes or health concerns is best. Low sugar recipes can be found on the pectin packs, and on the internet.

  25. Thank you for the info on dehydrating food. It suggests plastic canvas….there’s a variety of sizes and colors. I assume you buy the clear kind and a smaller opening? If a person uses window screen…I assume you can’t use the plastic-looking kind (and grasshoppers eat through them). Is there a difference in metal screens or are they all ‘food grade’? Roofing tin…is that what the food is laid directly onto, or would you put something between the food and the tin? Thank you.

    • Hi Judy,
      If I were you, I’d place the veggies/fruits to be dehydrated on a cookie sheet first, then
      place them onto the tin sheet. You can use cookie sheets, plates, anything flat. Space
      the fruits/veggies so they don’t touch. You can turn the stuff over, too. The garlic smells
      so good when it’s drying!! I use garlic with almost everything!!! Love the stuff.
      I really like the idea of using an old car (that gets hot) to dehydrate stuff. I can hang the
      dehydrater I have outside, but regardless of the netting that goes all the way around the
      thing, bugs still manage to make their way into it….so…..I do it inside. You can also hang
      a dehydrator over your stove. Mine is called Hanging Pantry, that I got from The Power Hour.
      Big hook….hang it anywhere.
      I think it was like $50, plus shipping. The shelves straps come undone, so I sewed them in place.
      Other than the straps, the thing works great.

  26. Drying take a long time as a rule with a dehydrater. How long doe it take without one?

  27. I bought a hanging pantry dehydrater. It works great!! It was trial & error, but I have it down pat, now.
    Doing up fruits is tricky. You have to dip the fruit in Lemon juice, first. I hang my fruits/veggies on the
    little trays (6 of them) with the screen that goes all the way around the dehydrater. I have a small fan that
    I place about 4′ from the dehydrater, in the back room that we don’t use. It gets HOT in that room, which makes
    it perfect for dehydrating. I have even done up some fruits this winter, hanging the dehydrator and turning on the fan. It took 24 hrs longer, but it worked!!
    Far as eggs go, I’m sorta leary about trying to dehydrate them. I have frozen eggs, that work great in cake mixes, scrambled eggs, or anything calling for eggs. Just took whipped eggs, poured them into an old icecube tray & froze them. Once frozen, they got dumped into a ZIP LOCK bag….tossed into the freezer for future use.
    I just refuse to toss out veggies or fruits when they start getting over ripe. I’ve dehydrated tomatoes, garlic, onion, squash, lemons & oranges. Of course, I do can veggies, spagetti sauce/chili etc. If the electric grid is killed, dehydrating your foods is the most common sense way to save them. Everyone needs to learn to do this.

    • Thank you Vindi and others.
      Your comments help a lot. I do have an electric dehydrator, but want to do things without electricity, if possible and all the comments here do help. Our house is humid year round so I need to come up with an alternative method….and spot to do it.

      • Try a room that is seldom used, and place a small fan about 3′ to 4′ from whatever you’re drying/dehydrating.
        Just try it. If after 48 hrs your items aren’t dehydrated, then that idea is out. Your fruit should be rubbery, and garlic/onions will be brittle. Let us know how it goes for ya :)

  28. I worked in Sun City Az for many years. Many people used the patio screen door (arcadia door) to dry grapes (rasins) They would hose down the screen and let it dry. Then put it up on saw horses and let the sun do it’s thing. It could also be put in the garage with the door open. Would not take long at all, but remember i live in AZ. It’s a dry heat, LOL. Early in the year the temp is 100 degrees and 5-15% humidity.

    As for Katangro i have seen heavy guage electrial wire (12 guage) used as a thickness guage. Lay the wire on both sides of the mixture and use your rolling pin to flattin the mixture to the thickness of the wire

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