Each method of “putting food by” has its pros and cons, in terms of simplicity, flavor, and length of shelf life. Perhaps you had a mother or grandmother who spent days (or weeks) each summer in the kitchen, canning or freezing the garden’s bounty with your willing (or unwilling!) assistance. Another method worth looking at is dehydration. Did you know that only 20 to 30 percent of nutrients are retained by canning, 40 to 60 percent by freezing, but 95 to 97 percent by dehydration? In addition, dehydrated foods take a fraction of the space that canned goods take, and do not require a constant power supply as frozen foods do. Most everyone has had the depressing – and expensive – experience of pitching a freezer full of food after a power outage.
If you’re ready to try your hand at dehydrating food, start with a few basic veggies. Here are some tips… Green beans. One traditional method is to use a needle and thread: Simply run a string through the beans and hang them to dry. Or use your dehydrator, but be sure to blanch the beans first to ensure better flavor. After the beans are dried, they may be shrink-wrapped for further “compactness.” If so, wrap each portion in a paper towel to prevent the beans from poking through the package. When you’re ready to use them, they may be dropped directly into soups and stews However, rehydrate them before using in recipes calling for canned beans.
Potatoes. Modern housing – even in rural areas – most often snubs the idea of the root cellar. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a root cellar, you may still want to dry a few potatoes, which turns out to be a real space saver (five pounds of potatoes become just one). First, scrub them, and slice them up. Then soak in salt brine for a few minutes to prevent them from turning brown, then place them in the dehydrator for about a day. You can even pre-shred your spuds and dehydrate them to use for hash browns.
Tomatoes. If you’ve got sun, you can take advantage of the free energy; and if necessary, finish the job in the dehydrator. Cut them in quarter-inch wedges, and coat lightly with salt before setting them out. This pre-drying in the sun works well for tomatoes; their water content makes them more challenging in the dehydrator than other produce. When finished, put them in plastic bags or glass jars. You can store them this way for up to 6 months If longer storage is needed, put them in the freezer.
Onions. After removing the outer layer, cut into quarter-inch slices. Dry until brittle. Like green beans, you can drop dried onions directly into soups or stews. Grind in a food mill or blender to make onion flakes or powder; mix powder with an equal amount of salt for homemade onion salt.
The next time you have surplus harvest and want to preserve some for the days of winter – or for times when your food supply is endangered by any number of circumstances – give dehydration a try. And share some of your “dried goods” with your neighbors to let them in on the secret of easy, nutritious preserved food.