Dehydrating your produce

Is dehydration for me?

Is your garden growing well? Do you have too much of something, maybe zucchini, tomatoes or parsley? Have you ever thought of dehydrating your overabundance? Drying is easy to do and the results are easy to store. Because the item is dried, it is lighter and takes up less space.

Drying has been used for centuries to preserve food, and is still a viable way today. Michigan’s humidity and moderate temperatures may not be conducive to outdoor drying, but an oven or dehydrator can be. Check your oven to see if an even 140 degrees Fahrenheit temperature can be maintained. If so, you could use your oven. The door should stay ajar to let the air circulate, so the energy use could be high. If you decide on a food dehydrator, try to buy one that is double walled, with a fan. You can get one with trays for both produce and fruit leathers. The best sources to look for information on purchasing are research-based. Many basic dehydrators are very affordable.

You can dry almost anything – fruits, vegetables, meats (jerky), herbs and rubs. Some items need to be pretreated, so an up-to-date recipe is needed to be assured you are safely dehydrating. Vegetables should be blanched as a pretreatment to slow the growth of enzymes and other spoilage microorganisms. Without blanching, there could be spoilage. Fruits are usually dipped in solutions before dehydration to prevent oxidation (browning) and create a better product. Meats must be cured before drying, by liquid (brining) or dry (rub) method. Times and mixtures vary from item to item, Michigan State University Extension recommends using a research-based recipe. Looking online is not always the safest way to find one, as they may not be research-based!

So how do you dry all your zucchini? Pick young, slender zucchini, wash and trim. Cut squash into quarter-inch slices then steam blanch 2.5 to three minutes and cool quickly. Drain and place on trays and dry for 10-12 hours, until brittle. Check it every so often for crispness.

When dried, store in a food grade container that has a tight fitting lid. Home canning jars are great, as they seal well and you can tell what is inside by looking through the jar. Label and keep containers in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Check foods occasionally for moisture, and if it occurs, throw the food away.

Tomatoes are a different story. Because of their acidity, they do not need to be blanched. However, you should steam or dip in boiling water to loosen and remove skin. Chill in cold water. Slice half-inch thick or cut in three-quarter inch sections. Dip in solution of one teaspoon citric acid quart of water for 10 minutes. Place on the drying trays and dry for six to 24 hours. They will be crisp when done. Store the tomatoes the same way as the zucchini.

How do you dry your parsley? Herbs are very easy to preserve. Simply pick first thing in the morning, tie up the stems and hang in an area that is warm and has good air circulation. You can also dry them in a dehydrator or oven, but keep your eye on it – it dries very quickly. When dry, peel the parsley off the stems and store in an air-tight, food-grade container.

Can you see how easy it would be to create menus after a long day at work with a pantry of home-dried foods? Stew and soups in the crock-pot using your own produce, would be like having summer all year long. Whatever you grow or pick should be able to be processed.

If you are interested in information on home food preservation or food safety, you can contact your local Extension office or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464). Food Safety experts are working throughout the state to bring classes to you – look for a class near you at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/events.

For $10, MSU Extension offers a Home Food Preservation Online course, which participants can complete from the comfort of their own home. Register online today to start preserving the summer’s bounty of fresh produce.

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