Monday, June 15, 2015

What If You Can't Garden - Part 2

I have two dehydrators.  Neither are top of the line.  Both came from Fleet Farm where prices seem to be reasonable.  I bought the first one to replace my first dehydrator that did not have a temperature control.  The old one also had the fan in the bottom.  That didn't work out very well as some peas I was drying fell into the hole in the bottom for the fan, effectively stopping the fan blades and basically burning up the unit.  The new dehydrator has the heating and fan in the top.  Much better design.

The second dehydrator came to me via Oldest Son.  He heard me complaining loud and long about my frustration in trying to dry a large number of tomatoes before they turned bad.  Dehydrating takes time.  So he hot-footed it over to Fleet Farm and presented me with a second unit.  I showed my appreciation, as mothers are want to do, by mildly cussing him out for spending his money on something for me.  He promptly told me that this second dehydrator wasn't mine - it was his.  He just chose to store it at my house.  Sneaky kid!

I don't dehydrate meat, other than jerky.  I have seen articles and videos showing others drying hamburger and chicken.  But I am not brave enough to try it.  I know that fats in meat will cause the dried product to go rancid.  I guess I am too cheap frugal to risk spending money on meat only to take the chance of having to toss it.

I do dry a large variety of vegetables.  Because I have no garden, some of these come from the Farmers Market.  They include sliced potatoes, diced potatoes, green peppers and cabbage.  Others come from the frozen food section of the grocery.  When on sale, I stock up and dry sweet corn, peas, peas and carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans and mixed vegetables.  All dry easily, with no blanching beforehand, as they are already blanched before freezing.

Sams Club has a 50 lb. sack of onions for a little over $25.  That's far less than I would pay in a regular grocery.  I either slice them on my mandolin slicer or run them through my Vidalia Chop Wizard, for diced onions.  And yes, drying onions will smell up the living space.  The only room that I can shut off from the rest of the apartment is the bedroom, so I set the onion-filled dehydrators next to the two open windows and shut the door.  It sort of works.  At least nobody in the building has complained, yet. 

My local grocery often runs sales on fresh carrots, making them less expensive than at the Farmers Market.  I dry those either sliced or diced.

I have experimented with dehydrating a variety of fruit, and have had success with canned pineapple, apples and chopped cranberries.  I need to try a few more kinds of fruit as that is one hole in my food storage that should be filled.

I like to dry frozen hash browned potatoes.  They rehydrate in a matter of a few minutes and the taste and texture is identical to the frozen when taken from the freezer and cooked. 

So why mess with dehydrating?  Two reasons.  The first is that dehydrated foods will last for years.  And second, because when most food dries, the volume is significantly reduced, making it possible to store more food in less space.

Some talk about storing dehydrated vegetables in sealed Food Saver bags and then in mylar bags.  I can't afford to do all of that.  So I store my dehydrated foods in heavy duty plastic freezer bags, using double thickness on those vegetables that have sharp edges that can puncture plastic.  Then they go into cardboard banker boxes with lids.  Those fit onto the shelves of a standing shelf unit.  Moisture and light are the enemy of dehydrated foods.  I don't have a basement for storage, so the shelves for both home canned and dehydrated foods are kept in my bedroom, which seems to stay cooler than the rest of my apartment.  So far, after several years, this seems to be working well.  My bedroom will never, ever be featured in a fancy home decorating publication.  I don't care.  I'm not trying to impress anyone.  I'm trying to insure that my family and I stay alive for a while should the time come when this is all we have to eat.

So now you have all this dried food.  What are you going to do with it?

There is a website called "Dehydrate 2 Store."  There you will find videos of how to dehydrate various foods and how to use many of them.   There are also a ton of videos on YouTube about dehydrating and using what you dry.

I have found that some vegetables rehydrate better than others.  Corn will come back to its original form.  So will carrots.  Green beans - not so much.  So my canned vegetables are used for meals and my dehydrated vegetables are used mostly in soups.  I make a lot of soup using my crock pot.  I can eat off a pot of soup for a couple of days and then thicken the rest and have it over biscuits or dumplings.  If I make too much, I just freeze the leftovers for another day.

I have one of those little grinders that looks like a mini food processor.  I use it to grind dried corn into coarse cornmeal.  Mixed half and half with store bought cornmeal, it makes the best cornbread or corn muffins.

I use a lot of onions in cooking.  As I have no cold storage place, dried onions are the best solution for me.  Sometimes I will soak them in water to soften them up a bit and other times I will just toss a handful into whatever I'm cooking.  If I want just the onion flavor, I will run some dried onion through my little grinder until it becomes a coarse powder.  I do the same with dried sweet green peppers. 

Dehydrated potato slices work well for scalloped potatoes.  When I dry them, I slice them uniformly using my mandolin slicer.  I suppose you could use a food processor for this step.  As they are sliced, I toss them into a bucket of cold water to which I have added a little lemon juice.  This keeps them from turning brown.  Then the slices are blanched for 3 minutes and spread in a single layer on the dehydrator trays.  I usually let them run overnight and most times they are crispy dry by morning.

The big food storage companies sell #10 cans of freeze dried fruits and vegetables.  These are not the same as home dehydrated.  Freeze drying is a whole different process.  I have never tried the freeze dried food.  I understand that in some respects, it is superior to home dried.  But I just can't justify the cost.  So unless I find that pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, I guess I will continue on with drying my own foods.

There will be one more post in this series within the next day or two. 


  1. I have a dehydrator but I only make jerky with it as well. It has five trays but the fan is on the bottom. So far no jerky has fallen down in the fan but there's a first time for everything.

  2. I dry a ton of my own onions and thin sliced potatoes. The mandolin is great to slice very thin. Love the smell of onions dehydrating. Love to make fruit leather, too.

  3. Harry...What happened with my old dehydrator was probably a freak thing. If a person is going to use a dehydrator just for jerky, then I don't think it really matters where the fan is located. I find that in drying a variety of foods, the top heat element and fan along with the temperature control, gives me a better finished product. To each his own.

  4. Tewshooz...Some complain about the smell of drying onions, but I don't mind it, except for the fact that the smell kind of makes me hungry! I don't own a food processor, so my mandolin has gotten quite a workout. I like the results for the potato slices, too. Haven't tried the fruit leather as yet, but may have to give it a shot later. I was surprised at the variety of things that can be dried. Really adds to the food storage.