You're already growing your own food. So why not get the most out of it? Drying fruits and vegetables has become more popular these days. Even some grocery stores are offering more dried items. Dried vegetables are delicious in soups and stews, while dried herbs are what you find in the spice aisle of your store. Drying your own food gives you some flexibility and helps you stretch your food dollar. Here are a few easy ways you can get started drying your food.
Pick your produce at peak ripeness. Sometimes you have to slice your produce to make drying easier. Cut thick items, such as strawberries, carrots, and watermelon into slices about ¼ inch thick. Small berries can be left as they are.
You can still see farms in southern France where grapes are laid out on roof tiles to dry. You can sun-dry your food using screening or cheesecloth draped over oven racks. Just place your elevated racks in direct sunlight where there's good air circulation. After 2 or 3 days in the sun, move your produce to a shady location to complete the drying process. If rain threatens, you can use your oven to complete the job (see below).
Your oven is a very good food-dryer. All you have to do is put your produce on the racks with at least 3 inches between them. If your oven is electric, set the temperature at 160 degrees and pop the door open ½ inch. If your oven is gas, pop the door open 1/8 inch. Depending on your food, expect 4-12 hours of drying time. Also, you have to rotate your racks 3-4 times.
If drying food really appeals to you, you might want to invest in a dehydrator. These sensible machines make drying easier and more efficient. They use very little energy, are simple to use. You can find them online at stores such as lehmans.com, which provided us with this photo.
Once your food is dried, store it in screw-top containers. Old peanut-butter jars work great for this. Keep an eye out for spoilage for a few days. If some food spoils, discard it and re-dry the rest. Dried food stored in a cool, dark place can keep for about a year.
Dried vegetables can be turned into vegetable powders. If you love cooking, you'll love how these powders can enhance the flavor of soups, stews, and sauces. Powdered onions, garlic, carrots, celery, spinach, and bell peppers are favorites. Store them separately or mix them up in a medley of flavors.
Herbs are the easiest items to dry. Pick them early in the morning when the oils in the leaves are at their peak. Tie bunches of them with string and hang them in a cool, dark spot with good ventilation. Drying herbs look pretty. Why not add to your enjoyment by making an herb wreath? They'll look even more beautiful as they dry. Once dry, lay one bunch at a time on a plate and stroke the leaves off the stems. Store the leaves in screw-top jars. You can also freeze your dried herbs if you wrap them with a minimum of air.