A food dryer is easy to use at home to reduce food waste, preserve your garden surplus, and create a plan for better food security. Use these tips to get the most from your food dehydrator.
In August the earth laughs with its bounty. But while other people are playing at the lake, homesteaders are bringing in baskets and boxes of fruits and vegetables to preserve for winter.
The mistake I made in 2019
Last year I decided to skip the u-pick tomatoes and peppers and the week long tomato and salsa canning ritual we’ve had for 35 years. You know the thinking. The kids were grown up and it didn’t seem as important. Costco has canned tomatoes, I told Mr. Joybilee. And for the first time in 35 years I didn’t can vegetables for the winter. But I was wrong. So wrong.
Covid hit. The border between Canada and the US closed. Our Costco didn’t have canned tomatoes. Not only no tomatoes, but even canned and frozen vegetables were rationed for about 2 months here — limit 2 per family order. Lettuce was $4.50 a head in March and April. Eggs and meat were rationed too, along with rice, flour, and cleaning supplies. (Our stores, now 6 months later, still don’t have a full stock of cleaning supplies.) Not only was food rationed but the grocery store union in Canada suggested that people only be allowed to visit the store once every two weeks, enforced through store loyalty cards.
Today, on the other side of this, my garden has scads of lettuce, scads of kale, bok choy, chard, and Chinese cabbage. Now is the time to preserve these greens for winter. We won’t be caught twice.
In fact, I’m determined not to let this happened again. I’ve heard from my readers that they too, are taking responsibility for their own food security. Covid has demonstrated that the supply chain cannot be depended on.
One tool in my food security arsenal that I wouldn’t want to be without is my food dehydrator. Mine is a locally made electric food dryer that holds 20 pounds of fruit or vegetables at a time. (Learn how to pick the best dehydrator for your family here) I’ve used it for 35 years to preserve fruit, make fruit leather, dry cheese and jerky, preserve vegetables, onions, ginger, and garlic, and dry herbs for tea and herbal medicine.
There is a nuance to getting the temperature just right to safely preserve these diverse food stuffs, but once you master your dehydrator, you’ll find it invaluable, economical, and eco-friendly.
I asked my homestead blogger friends for their best tips on using a food dryer to dry fruit like apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and apricots. Click on this link for their best tips.
Fruit leather or fruit roll ups were my first introduction to drying fruit. My MIL put big rolls of fruit leather in our Christmas Stockings, our first Christmas together. She dried them in the oven. She didn’t have an electric food dryer. Fruit leather is just dried apple sauce. Add pureed strawberries, peaches, or raspberries to the applesauce to get other flavors. One of my favorite is adding a little spice for cowboy candy fruit leather. YUM.
Fruit leather is a fabulous way to get more herbs into those family members that shy away from your herbal preps. A little adaptogen powder, or herbal vitamin C powder added to the apple- fruit mixture can increase the nutrient density and help your family stay healthier if a second wave of covid comes this winter.
Dry the weeds to make an herbal supplement
One of my favorite ways to use my food dryer is to dry the garden weeds — they are often more nutritious than the vegetables. I used these to make a green supplement to add to smoothies and winter soup. Extra lettuce is also a good candidate for adding to this green supplement. Avoid strongly flavored veggies like cress and nasturtium leaves though, if you plan to use this green powder for smoothies.
No garden, no worries
If you don’t have a garden you can still use a food dehydrator to increase your food security. Look for 2nds at the farmer’s market or farm stand. Fruit labeled seconds is often imperfect, misshapen, or lightly bruised. Over ripe fruit also works well in fruit leather or as dried fruit. In fact, it will be sweeter and more yummy if it’s a little on the riper side. Dehydration concentrates those fruit sugars so that they become like candy.
Don’t overlook windfalls in your efforts to fill your food dryer. Backyard fruit, windfalls, and even fruit on public trees can all be used in the food dryer to ensure your food security. In our area there is a gleaners program where families can harvest neglected fruit trees and orchards, sharing a part of the fruit with a local food bank, but keeping some for their own winter supply.
Ripe bananas can be made into banana chips using a dehydrator. These will be more chewy and less crunchy than commercial banana chips which are deep fried. Store them in a glass jar, not a plastic Ziploc. The bananas are strongly flavored and may flavor other fruit if stored together.
When melons, mangoes, or pineapples go on sale in the fall, buy in bulk and dry them.
Vegetables like pumpkin, zucchini, and other fleshy vegetables keep very well in cold storage for several months, however, having some dried is beneficial when you want to get a meal on the table fast. Just drop the dried veggie in a soup stock to reconstitute.
Paleo and Keto snacks, too
You can even use your dehydrator to make paleo and keto diet food like jerky. Check out these 3 recipes for the best dehydrator jerky.
What to use if you don’t have a dehydrator
Before electricity was common, people used the sun or the heat from a wood stove to dry food for winter. While convenient, a dehydrator isn’t always necessity.
If you don’t yet have a food dryer, you can use your oven. Put it on the lowest temperature setting and keep the door ajar. Rotate the tray you place the food on every 4 hours to get even drying. Convection ovens are good for this, as they keep the air moving and promote even drying.
If you are handy with tools, you can make a solar food dryer using these plans from Home Depot. Solar dehydrating works best in areas with low relative humidity. If you live in humid zones, you’ll need the help of electricity to move the air inside the food dryer for best results.
Use these plans from Backwood Homes Magazine to DIY an electric dehydrator on a budget.
Food security made easy
A food dryer will give you decades of use and help you preserve the bounty when it comes, so that you have it for later. It can also help you reduce food waste. Dried food should be stored in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers for long term storage. Regular freezer bags can be used or even glass jars, but the shelf life is reduced if there is oxygen in the jar.. A vacuum sealer can increase the shelf life and preserve nutrients in home dried food.