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    When your garden produces a bounty of produce, consider dehydrating some
    • July 6, 2024

    For those of us who grow fruit, herbs, and vegetables, summer and early fall can become overwhelming when the garden is in full production. It’s nice to have an abundance of produce, but after a while you can get tired of eating it, no matter how good it is. Fruit trees tend to give their fruit all at once, so you could harvest many pounds of high-quality fruit that won’t stay good for very long. Our first apricot tree gave us over 75 pounds of apricots, all perfectly ripe at the same time! We often have a kitchen counter full of a variety of ripe tomatoes waiting to be eaten fresh or processed.

    Fruit can be turned into jams and jellies, but each recipe only uses 5-10 pounds of fruit. Of course, you can make multiple recipes, but how much jam and jelly will your family consume? Tomatoes can be made into salsa, pasta sauce, barbeque sauce, catsup, or canned whole. These are all delicious but involve many hours in the kitchen working over a hot stove.

    Dehydrating can be an easier way to deal with a sudden glut of produce that’s too good to compost. Drying can reduce the volume by 90%, making storage much easier. Preparing food for dehydration is relatively quick, and generally doesn’t involve heating up your kitchen.

    Fruit such as apricots, apples, peaches, nectarines, pears, berries, grapes, and most plums dehydrate well. For stone fruits, simply cut in half to remove the pit and, if possible, invert the fruit by pressing to turn it “inside-out.” This flattens the fruit half and allows it to dry quickly. Plums with tart skin should not be dehydrated since the tartness will intensify as the fruit dries. Most Japanese plums fall into this category. With that exception, flavor and sweetness will intensify with drying.

    Most vegetables can be dehydrated as well. Tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), herbs, string beans, leafy cooking greens, carrots, celery, and squash can be sliced or cut up and dried to make soup mix or snacks. If they are dried to the point of crispness, they can be pulverized in a food processor and made into flavored powder. I like to save tomato skins that have been removed in blanching, dry, and grind them into powder.

    Electric dehydrators come in two basic designs. The less expensive models have a fan and heating element on the bottom with moveable trays that stack. This type of dehydrator is less effective since the trays need to be rotated frequently to allow the food to dry reasonably quickly and evenly. The more expensive type of dehydrator has the heating element and fan in the back and blows the warm air over all the trays evenly. The trays need to be rotated as well, but not as frequently. Electric dehydrators can often be purchased at garage sales or secondhand stores. After the finished product has been vacuum sealed, it can be stored in the freezer indefinitely.

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