Doesn’t the very word “drying foods” conjure up the picture of a family of the 1800s preserving their abundant food by drying it in the sun? What a sense of accomplishment! They possessed the skill to keep food from spoiling and consequently, have enough in storage to last through the winter months. Back then, it may have been the very act that would keep the families from being short of food and very hungry though the season.
Dehydration is successful by drying slowly and consistently from the inside out. Therefore, the moisture required to produce bacteria is reduced and the food is preserved.
Preparing foods for drying should be done as soon as possible after gathering, this will insure a high caliber result. Blanch the fruit or vegetables and begin the drying process as soon as possible. Once you have started drying, continue until the process, is completed. Organisms that cause spoilage will grow, as well as mold, in food that is not throughly dried.
Thin wood lattices, or stainless steel screening should be used home drying receptacles. Your choice is restricted somewhat for these trays because some aluminum reacts to the acid in the fruit. Avoid copper, vinyl, fiberglass and anything galvanized. Trays used in ovens should be up to 2 inches smaller than oven shelves this will allow the air to circulate.
Place the trays in a relatively dust free area outside. The tray should be raised above the table with some sort of spacers to encourage air circulation. Protect the trays to guard from insects; cover with clean cotton material. Place fruits in open sunlight, and move to follow sun exposure. Vegetables will hold their color better if dried in shade. Insects sometimes deposit their eggs on drying food consequently after drying is completed, heat foods to 150 degrees for up to 30 minutes.
Oven trays make a good unit for drying in the oven. Place a stainless steel screen across the rack to keep the product from falling though. The oven should be set at 140 to 150 degrees. An electric oven will not allow moisture to ventilate, so will need to be propped open to allow it’s release. A gas oven will allow for moisture ventilation so you will not need to be concerned with opening the oven door.
You will need to read the instructions that come with the specific dehydrator purchased. The best choice to buy is one that has a thermostat to regulate the temperature, and a fan to move the air. Look for these features when you are ready to purchase one. The food placed in a solar dehydrator will need to be repositioned to continue in direct sunlight, several times per day.
Time for Drying
There is a lot of variance to drying times; you need to take into consideration along with what method you are using, the size of the portions, and moisture content. The task of sun drying takes the longest, and an electric dehydrator wins the time factor, as being the quickest way to dry.
* Meats 12 hours
* Vegetables 4-12 hours
* Fruits 6-20 hours
The ability to dry foods effectively takes determination and practice. Test, and test again. Remove a portion from the center of the tray to test and allow cooling somewhat. Vegetables will be breakable; fruit and meat jerky will be leathery and supple.
Before putting away for storage, foods should “set.” Place in a porous cotton bag; the moisture will settle equally through the food in approximately one week. Hang the bag in a noticeable location and shake the bag daily.
When completely dry, store in heavy plastic bags, remove all air, and place in glass container with secure lid. Store in low light, and an area that is cool. Foods should be used within a period of one year.
Jerky requires no further preparation: it is usually eaten dried. The vegetables for soups will hydrate by the added liquids during the cooking process, otherwise the vegetables will need to be soaked for at least an hour in up to two cups of water for each cup of vegetables. Let dried fruit stand in boiling water for 5-6 minutes to soften before adding to recipes, and then drained. Fruit is very good eaten dried.
Vitamin A, protein, and minerals are retained somewhat well, especially if the water used to soak the fruit or vegetables is also eaten. The concentration from drying makes them high in calories.
This is quite an interesting procedure, and it may turn out to be something you truly enjoy doing.
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