Good day to you all! First thing I want to do here is apologize for my disappearance over the past week. My wife and I have purchased a new home. The last week has been spent packing, moving, and unpacking. We still have quite a bit more to do but now my ‘office’ is set up and I will continue my daily posting. I’ll let you know when we start our new blog on rural, small town homesteading and self sufficiency and the slow advancement of our refurbishing our 'new to us' 1918 house.
And now, let’s get to it! The last thing I posted was all about freeze dried foods. Today we’ll cover dehydrated foods.
Lower price than freeze-dried
Food loses some texture when dried
Food is compact, more can be stored in a container
Some loss of taste compared to freeze-dried
Food can be dried at home (sun-dried)
Loss of nutrients
Easy to reconstitute with water
Need a machine to create air tight seal and add oxygen absorber
In the dehydration process, the water is slowly cooked out of the fruit or vegetable, without actually cooking it. There are three different methods: air-dried, sun-dried, or kiln-dried. Food can be easily sun-dried from your home, whereas the air or kiln method requires more equipment. All of these are very cost-effective ways of storing food. After drying, they are stored in airtight containers. Usually they are packed with an oxygen absorber, which removes the oxygen (which allows food to go bad faster), leaving only nitrogen behind.
Dehydrating your own food
There may well be not much that is more satisfying than "putting by" your own food. Bottling (canning) and drying are the traditional ways of preserving homegrown (or fresh farm stand/farmer’s market) produce. Drying food is one of the oldest ways of food storage. The process involves removing moisture from food, while exposing it to high temperatures and air flow. Dried fruits provide a cheap and sweet alternative to sugary snacks bought at a grocery store. Fruit leather and jerky are two snack replacements that you can make at home for virtually pennies.
There are three main ways of drying food at home. They are: sun-drying, oven-drying and using a food dehydrator.
Sun-drying is best for fruits like apricots, peaches, grapes, and figs, and there is other produce that is good for drying. Sun-drying requires a number of hot (85°F or higher) days with relatively low humidity. Spread thin pieces of fruit evenly across a shallow pan and cover the pan with cheesecloth to keep the bugs off your food. Once this is done, you’re ready for the sun. There are many ways of getting exposure to sunshine. One creative way is by putting boxes in the back seat of your car and laying the pan on top of them, with full exposure to the sun through the back window. You can also use sunny porches, balconies and even flat roofs to dry your food. Just make sure it does not get blown away by strong winds or rained on.
Oven-drying involves drying food at temperatures between 130°F and 150°F. Before you even start this process, make sure your oven even has a temperature setting this low. As in sun-drying, distribute pieces of food in a shallow pan or dish. Check on your food occasionally to make sure it is dehydrating adequately.
If the temperature is too low or the humidity is too high when sun or oven-drying, the food may dry too slowly or spoil. When the temperature is too high it could cook the food and make it hard on the outside, while leaving the inside moist and vulnerable to mold or other forms of ‘grossness’ from ‘wee beasties’ (microorganisms).
Commercial food dehydrators (or the smaller ones made specifically for home use) offer the most controlled drying environments. They provide a constant perfect temperature together with heated air that circulates using a blower. Most dehydrators also come with special liners and trays for dehydrating fruit leather as well as small, sticky kinds of foods. Fruits, vegetables, and meats can dry while you are away at work, asleep, or doing your household chores with no worries. These are easiest simply because you can “set ‘em and forget ‘em”.
After the food is done, allow it to cool down to room temperature and package it loosely in plastic bags, hard plastic containers or glass jars. For long-term storage, pack it in airtight containers. Foods that you dehydrate yourself not only make great snacks at home but are useful when camping or backpacking since they do not need refrigeration.
There are very many good books on the shelves that can teach you how to dry fruits, vegetables and meats and most have excellent and delicious recipes included. Do your research and buy one of these if you want to know more.
Copyright ©2010 Noel Napolitan
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