By Michael Jenkins
As we reach the end of summer, it’s time to start thinking about preserving the bounty of the season. With all the fruits, veggies, and greens your garden has given you, it would be lovely to keep some of them for use over the winter months until the growing season comes around again. We’ve written about food preservation elsewhere, and gone into depth about how freezing is a great, easy way to preserve garden vegetables. However there are other ways of preserving garden produce for the winter months that are almost as easy and allow you to create some interesting results. Dehydrating garden produce is another option for saving the flavors of the season all year round.
Dehydration works exactly as the name implies: removing as much water as possible from the produce in question and thus making it shelf-stable and safe to store long-term. Drying food out in this way is a well-established way of preserving food. Dehydration was used in prehistoric times to preserve meat and vegetables so that they could be stored for future use. By dehydrating some of your produce, you’ll be connecting yourself to our shared past and your ancient ancestors.
So how to dehydrate garden vegetables for best results? There are a number of ways you can go about dehydrating produce, depending on the equipment you have available and the results you want to achieve:
- Electric dehydrators are affordable, widely available, and easy to use. While they vary in size, quality, and features, most of them include a heat source, trays that hold the food, and then a means to move hot air over the food and thus dry it out. Most of them aren’t expensive and they don’t take up much space, so this may be a great way to get started. You can often find them at yard sales and garage sales, so keep an eye out!
- Oven dehydration is another option, which for most of us won’t require purchasing any additional equipment. The food goes on a drying tray or cooling tray on a baking sheet and is placed in an oven on low for 6-12 hours. While this uses a bit more electricity, keeps your oven busy for half a day, and can add a lot more heat to your house, it’s an accessible way to get started in dehydrating your garden’s veggies and can render good results.
- Solar dehydrationis the oldest method of dehydrating and preserving food: using the heat of the sun to dessicate and preserve produce, meat, or whatever you have. Solar dehydration works best if you live in a hot, dry climate and have access to a space that gets plenty of sun all day. Solar dehydration can make use of a purpose-built solar dehydration device, or just produce laid out in the sun to dry. If you’re going to attempt the latter, consider protecting your produce with a garden net of some kind to keep it safe from birds and other critters.
Which technique you use depends on your situation and your goals, but it’s important to remember that different kinds of fruits, veggies, and greens require different dehydration techniques and approaches, so pick the one that’s right for what you’re preserving. Generally speaking, you’ll want to slice the produce in question thin, pat it dry, and then move it to the dehydration technique of your choice until it’s thoroughly dehydrated. Some foods can be dehydrated whole–chili peppers are often preserved this way in the American Southwest.
We hope you’ll try dehydrating some of your garden produce this year, and that you’ll let us know the results when you get a chance. We love hearing from you and we love knowing how your gardens are doing, so please reach out!