The art (& fun) of food drying7 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Summer! The time of harvest for so many beautiful fruits. And traditionally, the time for preserving fruit and vegetables for use over the colder months.

Every time I go to the Farmer’s Market lately I am inspired by the abundant array of luscious fruit and vegetables. Really……it’s hard to resist a tray of huge, golden mangoes!!!

When our kids were young (the age our grand children are now), we lived on a farm and grew most of our own fruit and veggies. And we could buy fruit in season at roadside stalls. It was not unusual to have two or three big laundry baskets full of capsicum (bell pepper), or peaches, or apricots, or nectarines, or apples in the back of the car after a trip. The summer time (school holidays) was always a time for preserving or drying stocks for the year.

About 15 years ago we discovered that we could grow bananas here in Newcastle (the beauty of the sub tropical climate). We started with one tiny plant and soon had an abundance of huge bunches of amazing bananas that had never had a chemical near them. They really do make the supermarket bananas seem like yellow cardboard.

Since then we’ve been drying many kg of bananas….until, sadly, our dehydrator `died’. It was about 35 years old and had worked hard, so I guess that’s reasonable.

We were given a new dehydrator just before Christmas so I’ve been enjoying getting back into full swing with drying. Reading the labels on dried food products and seeing sugar and vegetable oil high on the list of ingredients has been very motivating. And hubby likes the convenience of light weight snacks for when he gets called out with SES.

dried fruit

I’ve had many people ask me what I add to the fruit and veggies when I dry them (to preserve colour etc). The answer is NOTHING!!!!! That’s the great thing about this – YOU control the ingredients. You can add things, but it’s not necessary.

Lots of people have made (lots of) money writing books full of instructions about how to dehydrate foods. There is so much information – about how to cut, slice, and dice the food; other things to do to prepare the food; how long to dry; temperatures for drying; storage, etc. They make it sound so complicated….but it’s NOT. Just as every piece of fruit or vegetable is different, so is each food dehydrator. Drying is a bit of an art rather than a formula.

Here are a few of my tips and ideas for dehydrating foods.

  1. Keep it simple. Enjoy the process. I recently had all four grand-daughters helping me and they loved it.
  2. Experiment. It’s hard to make a serious mistake. And, it really is just about what you and your family like to eat.
  3. The Process:
  • Wash the fruit/vegetables (unless you are peeling it). If it’s not organic it will have traces of chemicals & often a coating of wax as well. Most of the chemicals are not water soluble so plain water will not wash them off. Use cold water with apple cider vinegar added. It breaks down the chemicals. (Add about 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to a sink of cold water and leave the fruit/vegetables in it for about 20 minutes.)
  • Most fruit and vegetables will need to be cut/sliced. I use a mandolin for firmer things like apples, zucchini, sweet potato. Softer ones I just cut with a knife.
  • Arrange them on the trays -not touching one another is best.
  • Put it on the dry!! Most dehydrators have a small temperature range so you can’t go far wrong there. Temperature and time depends on factors such as the liquid content of the fruit/vegetable, humidity, air temperature, and how dry you want the finished product. Thus it’s not possible to give exact info on these things.
  • When they’re done – store in an airtight container in a dark place…..out of sight of kids and spouse!!

How do you know when the fruit is done?

The easy answer is that the fruit/vegetables are dry enough when they are how you like them. Take a piece out of hte dehydrator and let it cool. Then try it. I usually bend it. If you like a particular fruit to be moist and chewy, it will be more flexible and will not take as long as a crispy end product. Removing moisture is what preserves. Bacteria can only breed in moisture. if you want your fruit and vegetables semi-dried, store them in the fridge to be safe.

What type of dehydrator should I get?

My favourite is the EziDri F1000 (it used to be called Harvest Maid & is the one we had previously). It’s powerful and you can have up to 30 trays. They vary in price but I’ve seen them for around $300-400. (I’ve dealt with the guys at Ozfarmer and had great service.) You can get others (less powerful and less trays) for much less cost. Aldi recently had one for $30. Good if you are just wanting to try it before you get serious.

sweet potato chips

Things we’ve dried recently….

  • Mangoes – we were getting cheap trays of mangoes just before Christmas, so they were high on the list. Simply peel, slice and dry. They took about 10 hours to be slightly chewy.
  • Apples – wash, slice and dry. We wanted them crispy so sliced them very thinly. I like to sprinkle them with Pumpkin Spice Mix before drying. Yum!!
  • Zucchini – wash, slice and dry. Again, we wanted them crispy so sliced them very thinly. We’ve tried them sprinkled with a TINY amount of sea salt, or Ranch Dressing Mix (YUM!!), or smokey paprika.
  • Sweet potato – peel, slice and dry. This is nice sprinkled with either a TINY amount of sea salt, or cinnamon, or ginger powder, or Ranch Dressing Mix, or even Pumpkin Spice Mix.
  • Blueberries – wash, `crack’ and dry. `Cracking’ is required to break the skin of most berries so that they will dry. Drop them into a pot of gently boiling water for no longer than 1 minute. Then put them straight into some iced water so that they don’t cook. (OK. So that was a technical bit!!) We like to put some of these into our Coconut Energisers.
  • Kiwi fruit – wash, slice and dry.
  • Grapes – wash, cut OR crack, and dry. I got some large, black grapes and decided to cut them in halves. It really didn’t take very long, and the result was AMAZING! I’m looking forward to getting some black muscat grapes and drying them. (Buying dried muscats is expensive.)
  • Kale chips – wash, pat dry, coat with a small amount of coconut oil, dry. Be careful not to use too much coconut oil. You don’t want it to drip into the bottom of your dehydrator. I like to sprinkle it with a tiny amount of salt and a herb mix.
  • Bananas – peel, cut in half lengthwise and dry. Laying them curved side up will prevent sticking to the tray. We like the bananas a bit chewy, and because they are ticker they will take longer to dry. Usually around 24 hours.
  • Beetroot – wash, peel, slice and dry. Make sure you wear gloves or you will have very dark stained hands!!!
  • Tomatoes – wash, cut into quarters and dry. I like to use Roma (egg) tomatoes as they have a nice rich flavour when dried. I usually cit them into quarters lengthwise and sprinkle with dried mixed herbs or fresh herbs from the garden (such as basil, oregano, marjoram, sage, thyme). I do them `semi-dry’ for general use. Great for a cheese patter this way!! I store some `dry’ in a glass jar in the fridge. Others I store in a jar of olive oil in the fridge.

semi dried tomatoes

I’m so glad to have dried tomatoes again. I’ve not been able to find commercial ones anywhere – despite looking almost every week!! They all have canola or other vegetable oils in them.

These things have all been in process in our kitchen over the past month. Coming up will be chillis, lemons, pineapple, paw-paw, and various herbs. Oh, and beef jerky is on the list too – of course!!!

Are you ready to have a go at drying (if you haven’t already)? We’d love to hear of your experiences.

Judith

5 comments

  1. Thats it! Dehydrater is next on the list! Tired of buying vegetable oil soaked dried fruit. I’m sure my kids will luv helping out with this one!!

    1. I agree Jade. Your kids are at just the right age to enjoy helping with the food drying. Vegetable oil in fruit just makes no sense at all. And nor does all the added sugars. Why do people think that delicious, sweet grapes (for example) need to have sugar added when they are dried??!! Especially when you realise that drying concentrates the natural sugars anyway.

      We’ve started doing beef jerky too now. Will loves it!!!

  2. These look delicious Judith! Amy (my wife) has always talked about getting a dehydrator, and you might have sold me! We’re always looking for sugar-free alternatives for snacks. Great post 🙂

    1. Looks like this one is a win for Amy. We don’t have any regular sugar in any of our recipes. There are some added, mineral rich sugars (eg. coconut sugar, raw, unfiltered honey) in small amounts in some recipes, though we often don’t even use them when cooking for ourselves now. It’s amazing how your taste can totally change. Glad to be of help.

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