July 25, 2011

Tip of the day—Part 4 Food Preservation Series

Today as part of the food preservation series, we’ll discuss dehydrating foods.  Dehydrating foods is super simple, and I hope you’ll give it a try!  If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use your oven set at its lowest temp--just be sure to rotate your trays around and check them frequently to make sure they aren’t burning.  If your oven isn’t calibrated properly and tends to run hot, you can turn it on for 30 minutes, off for 10 to let it cool, turn it back on, etc, etc.  This will help to keep the temp at or below 150 degrees. 

Dehydrating foods.  Drying foods This time of the year—jerky, berries, peaches (my favorite!), zucchini, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and melons.

Pros

  • This is a relatively simple form of food preservation, equipment can vary. You can use the power of the sun to dehydrate foods with drying racks.  You can set your oven to a very low temperature and dry foods in there.  Or, the easiest and most reliable is to purchase a food dehydrator.  They cost about $50+, depending on the make and what bells and whistles you want. 
  • The food lasts for a long time, and it requires little maintenance.  It is shelf stable.
  • Dehydrated fruit will quickly become your family’s favorite snack. (Note, this can also be a con!) ;)

Cons

  • In the event of an emergency, water is helpful in rehydrating the foods. 
  • If you do not dehydrate the foods completely they can become moldy.  The simple fix on this is to dehydrate the foods until crispy or chewy, and then to check them the next few days.  If your foods are not stored in air tight containers, they can plump.  Store them in mason jars to make it easy to check them periodically. 

Tips for Dehydrating Foods:

  • Make your cuts of the food as uniform as possible. This will help the food on your trays to be ready all at the same time.
  • Plan ahead. Dehydration can take many hours. I often put the food in the dehydrator after supper and in the morning remove the food that is dried. Some wetter foods can take a full day to dehydrate, such as peaches and melons. Temperatures among dehydrators vary greatly. My model may take hours longer than another person’s.
  • Check every few hours. I once had the sad experience of burning an entire batch of peaches because I forgot to check them before going to bed. They were very caramel-like and had a bitter taste—not nearly as good as the ones cooked for the proper time.
  • Drain and pat your foods dry if you can. This helps reduce drying time.
  • The flavors will intensify when cooking. You can experiment with marinades and soaks but realize that the flavor will become more concentrated after dehydrating.
  • Use fresh foods. Remember that note above about the flavors intensifying? Well, a bland tomato will only taste blander. Use fresh foods whenever preserving for the best results.
  • Choose a little under-ripened, though. Opt for a ripe peach, not an under-ripened crisp one and not a super-ripe dripping one. If in doubt go for an ever so slightly under-ripened.
  • To make bananas a cinch, use an egg slicer. These make uniform slices and reduces your cutting time.
  • To treat or not to treat? What a question! Most of the time, I do not choose to treat my foods with Fruit Fresh or lemon juice when dehydrating. The browning does not affect the flavor of the food. If you mind that it is a little brown, go ahead and treat it if you like.
  • Store dehydrated foods in airtight containers. When removing foods, make sure your hands are clean and dry to reduce risk of spoilage.
  • Remove dehydrated foods when no liquid remains in the food. Fruit will be rubbery, veggies will be crisp (as a general rule). If you remove them when liquid is still inside, they will mold.
  • One of the best places I’ve seen to buy dehydrators and dehydrating supplies, such as jerky making equipment, is Bass Pro Shop.
  • If you want to play sneaky chef, grind dehydrated vegetables into a powder and add to other foods. This will up the vitamin intake.
  • An apple corer and slicer makes dehydrating go much more quickly for foods like pears and apples.

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