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We grow gardens that at times produce abundantly. Dehydrating or drying the crop of our labor is simply another method of “putting them away” for later. When the cold winter winds blow, we can use our crops with pride. We will feel the self satisfaction of our garden just as our ancestors must have known.

Our forefathers preserved their food naturally, by drying, or as we would say today, dehydrating. This was a common practice of colonists, Indians and farmers. The modern ways we now use to process our foods were un-known. However, the good part of our past is that the preservatives we now add were unknown. The art of drying fruits and vegetables adds nothing, only takes away the water in the foods. Although not as “eye appealing” they certainly must have been much healthier.

The most popular fruits to dry are peaches, apricots, and apples. I am sure you have noticed them in grocery stores. However, the best is our own home dried fruit and vegetables.

Most people are not as likely to dry vegetables; they seem to have limited use. They often lose some of their taste in the process along with color and form. However they can all be dried and can be very useful with the skilled hands of a good cook.

When you consider drying you will need to weigh the fact that dried food has an increased concentration of many nutrients especially minerals. There is some loss of vitamin C and A.

Choose the fruits and vegetables that are sound and without blemishes for your project. Make sure they are completely ripe. The glucose level is the highest and will be at its peak of flavor when fully ripened.

Most fruits do not require blanching, they need to be washed, quartered or chunked, and remove pits, seeds and stems.

Vegetables should be blanched (precooked) in boiling water or steam before processing. Stainless steel pots are the preferred container. Mushrooms and onions are the exception; these are used primarily for seasoning.

Use a large amount of water and limit the amount of vegetables. The water must remain at a high temperature when blanching. Adding too many fruits or vegetables will lower the temperature to quickly.

Vegetables are blanched from 5 to 15 min according to their density. They should be washed, cut into small manageable chunks and seeds removed.

How do I dry my food?
There are many electric drying processors to choose at any retail store and most work well. However if you choose not to invest in an electric drier, food can be dried in your oven. Controlled heat lessens drying time. Vegetables dried this way retain more of their vitamin content and cook up with a better flavor.

The pieces of fruit or vegetables should be exposed to the heat equally, both top and bottom. You will need to place your food directly on the oven rack. A warm oven approximately 200 degrees will work.

Fruits take 6-8 hours to dry and vegetables will take 4-12 hours. The drying process is completed when the fruit feels dry and leathery on the outside but somewhat moist inside. Vegetables will feel hard and be brittle.

Store in airtight freezer bags or glass containers sealed tightly. For a few days stir the food so the moisture is distributed evenly. Keep refrigerated.

If your fruit or vegetables become moist or limber during storage you can place them back into the oven for a short while 10 or 15 minutes to restore their dehydrated state.