Home dehydration - Fruit, Vegetables, Pasta sauce and more!
If you have a small veggie garden and maybe a few fruit trees, you might have experienced the all-too-familiar glut of some of your produce at harvest time, and been wondering what else you could do with your surplus. Or, you might absolutely love a particular fruit or vegetable and buy it in bulk when it's in season and cheap, and want another way to enjoy it year round. You might even be interested in making a few dehydrated meals to take tramping, to supplement (or replace) those expensive freeze-dried options.
Either way, there are many foods that respond very well to the dehydration treatment. This blog only details my experiences (and results) so far, as I'm new to the practice, but I've fast become a convert! Most worked well, some worked way better than I expected, and some were a bit disappointing - for a variety of reasons.
I bought a dehydrator a couple of years ago, and even though I can't fit in in my kitchen anywhere (it lives in the garage in its box between uses), I love it. The one I chose was a Sunbeam Food Lab DT600, and you can pick these units up on sale from time to time (mine cost me around $190), so keep your eye out. Of course you can use your oven, but settings and drying times will vary, so I have only supplied temperatures and times for a dehydrator.
If you are keen to dip your toe into home dehydration, read on :-)
Apples were the first thing I tried, and they were a roaring success. I made a few tweaks to the process along the way for speed and uniformity, and I get a bit of a production line going when I get into the swing of it.
Put the lemon juice into the shallow bowl - you may even have your own lemons to juice. Peel one apple at a time (to minimise browning), core the apple, then slice on the mandolin (watch your fingers!). I set my mandolin on the "3" setting, which is the thickest slice it does, and this is a good balance between being thick enough so the slices don't fall apart when you are handling them, and thin enough to give a reasonably quick drying time. Dip both sides of the apple slices in the lemon juice, and place on your dehydrator trays as close together as possible, but so they don't touch. Repeat until all you have used all the apples.
Set your dehydrator to 60℃ and 5 hours drying time.
You can store your apple slices in the fridge in press-seal bags, or you might be able to get your hands on a vacuum sealer device like I did (thanks Mum!) and vacuum seal batches of the slices and keep in your pantry. I have a couple of apple trees, and my Mum does too, so I end up doing a lot of apple slices, hence the vacuum seal option.
Now I love fresh cherries, and I often make brandied cherries during the season, but I'm a total convert to dried cherries after this.
fresh cherries, no damage, washed
sharp serrated knife
Pit the cherries, and slice each one in half with the sharp knife. Place the cherry halves cut side up on your dehydrator trays as close together as possible, but not touching. Repeat until you have used all the cherries.
Set your dehydrator to 60℃ and 18 hours drying time. Your dehydrator may have a maximum time setting of 10 hours, so check them, maybe shift them around a bit if they are stuck to the trays, and set it going again for the remaining time.
I have stored my dried cherries in press-seal bags in the fridge, but apparently you can store them in glass jars, but you need to "condition" them first. You can read more about this process here. You could also freeze them if you wanted to store for longer.
Unfortunately, even though I love blueberries so much and wanted them to be awesome they were just way too much work. I did finally end up with a good result, but it took so much faffing about and drying time I won't do it again, unless I can think of a method that would significantly improve the process.
I found some instructions online that said to blanch them first, so as to burst the skins and allow better and faster drying. So armed with a large pot of boiling water, I cycled the blueberries through, plunged them in iced water, drained them in a colander, and put them out on baking paper-lined dehydrator trays. I set the dehydrator to 60℃ and the maximum time of 10 hours, anticipating a total drying time of somewhere near 24 hours. I turned them, shuffled them around, pricked them with a toothpick, anything I could think of to hurry things along, but I think it may have taken nearer 30 hours for the largest and juiciest blueberries to dry. In all honesty, I kinda lost count. I removed the dried ones as I went, and ended up putting the stayers onto the fine mesh herb drying rack for better air circulation. Suffice to say I have a new appreciation as to why dried blueberries are so expensive.
I don't know about you, but I always end up with bananas that are just a little riper than I like to eat (I do like them when they are mostly green and only just starting to turn yellow), and I can only eat so many banana-choc muffins! I was always put off the idea of drying bananas because of the way they would look, even with the use of lemon juice to minimise the browning. But wow, these are delicious and so easy to do. I intended to put them in my porridge for flavouring but ended up eating them by themselves as snacks!
bananas, only just ripe (yellow with a slight green tinge, or uniform yellow)
sharp serrated knife
Peel the bananas, cut in half (makes the finished pieces a good snack-size) and then slice these halves in half lengthways. Put the lemon juice in the bowl and coat the banana slices in juice. Place the slices on your dehydrator trays and repeat until you have used all the bananas.
Set your dehydrator to 60℃ and 16 hours drying time. Your dehydrator may have a maximum time setting of 10 hours, so check them, maybe shift them around a bit if they are stuck to the trays, and set it going again for the remaining time.
I store these in a press-seal bag in the fridge. You could also freeze them if you wanted to store for longer.
Uses for your dried fruit
All of the above are great as snacks on their own or added into scroggin mix, but they are also a great way to jazz up your porridge by adding some flavour: chopped dried apple with some cinnamon and brown sugar, or chopped dried banana with a few walnuts. You could even soak the dried cherries in brandy and use that as an adults-only dessert topping.
If you want to add dried veggies to your tramping meals, they don't have to be fancy. A few easy options are using frozen peas and corn, and dicing carrots and red capsicum. I know you can buy dehydrated peas, but I just can't stand the taste of the commercially prepared dried peas! The peas and corn take no time at all, but the carrot and capsicum took a bit longer.
A general approach for working out portion sizes is to prepare enough veggies for a certain number of portions, weigh the veggies before drying, and note the total weight, calculating the weight per portion. Then weigh the veggies again after drying, and the weight difference between before and after is the total water weight lost. Then calculate the weight of one portion using the total dried weight divided by number of portions, and calculate the amount of water to rehydrate a portion of the veggies using the total weight of water out divided by the number of portions. Then take a look at your measuring cups and covert this into something easy to measure on your tramp. NOTE: water weighs one gram per millilitre (mL).
started with 4 cups of veggies weighing 730g (around 90g per 1/2 cup portion)
after dehydrating, the veggies weighed 116g (around 15g per portion)
water weight lost = 614g (around 75g per portion)
Preparation instructions: when added to a one-pot meal, each portion of dried veggies will require the addition of 75g/75mL of water, which is equivalent to 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon.
I make sure to take a few plastic measuring cups (1/8 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/2 cup) and a teaspoon with me, and remember that 3 teaspoons (5mL) = 1 tablespoon (15mL).
As long as you note how many portions of veggies you add to a one-pot meal (along with the other dehydrated ingredients requiring their own water), you can know exactly how much water to add for the preparation of the meal. Who thought maths at school wouldn't come in handy!
Capsicum & Carrot
red capsicum, small dice
carrots, small dice
chopping board and knife to dice the capsicum and carrot
Line your dehydrator trays with baking paper, and place the capsicum and carrot on the trays, spread out as best you can.
Set your dehydrator to 45℃ and 9-10 hours drying time, mixing the veggies up a couple of times during the drying, checking for progress. Adjust time if necessary.
Peas & Corn
frozen corn kernels
a microwave safe container
Microwave your peas and corn for 3 minutes from frozen. Place on dehydrator trays lined with baking paper, and spread out as best you can.
Set your dehydrator to 65℃ and 4 hours drying time, mixing the veggies up a couple of times during the drying, checking for progress. Adjust time if necessary.
I store these in a press-seal bag in the fridge. You could also freeze them if you wanted to store for longer.
Uses for your dried veggies
Dried veggies are a great way to boost the nutritional value of your home-dehydrated tramping meals, and can be added to pastas, soups, and rice dishes. Make sure to take note of the water required to rehydrate the number of portions you are using.
You can dehydrate pasta sauce!! Pretty handy for those tramping meals that require a rich and hearty flavour note (and of course my One-Pot Pasta meal). Now if I had more time I would have made my own sauce and dehydrated that, but I was a bit short on time so I used two jars of commercially-prepared pasta sauce.
2 jars of commercially prepared pasta sauce, tomato and basil flavour (total weight 1040g - and approximately 8 portions)
the "fruit rollup" solid plastic drying tray of your dehydrator
if your dehydrator didn't come with one of these, you can use a silicon baking sheet laid out on a regular drying rack
Spread the pasta sauce as evenly as possible onto the tray, and place into the dehydrator. You may need to use a large spatula, or one of those cool cake icing spatulas if you have one.
Set your dehydrator to 70℃ and 11-15 hours drying time. It will crack as it dries and turn dark red and leathery. You may remove the sauce that has dried enough at around 11 hours (likely the bits around the outside of the tray), and leave the bits that are still drying (that were thicker at the start) to dry for the full 15 hours.
Once it is all done, chop the sheets of dried sauce into squares with a pair of kitchen scissors. Weigh again.
My sauce weighed only 165g after drying! This meant that it lost 875g of water, which meant:
each portion of pasta sauce now weighed 20g (was 130g before drying)
for each portion of sauce I needed to add 110g/110mL of water (which is 1/3 cup + 1/8 cup)
It may seem a little strange to cook rice then dehydrate it, but it saves a lot of cooking time and gas while tramping. Once again, weighing before and after is necessary to ensure a good final result in your tramping meal.
2 cups of Basmati rice (enough for 6 portions)
4 cups of water
large mesh strainer
large covered saucepan
Rinse rice until the water runs clear, then cook the rice in a covered saucepan using the absorption method. Spread onto two baking paper-lined trays as evenly as possible.
Set your dehydrator to 55℃ and 8 hours drying time. You will need to break up chunks of rice as it dries.
The total weight of the cooked rice before drying was 1140g (6 portions at 190g each), and the total weight after drying was 400g (65g per portion), so a total of 740g of water was lost. This means:
for each 65g portion of rice you will need to add 125g/125mL of water (which is 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon)
the rice will need to be brought to the boil then simmered for 10-15 minutes to fully rehydrate
see my Bacon and Veggie fried rice recipe for a way to use your dehydrated rice
Wait a minute, dried mince?? Pretty much my thoughts when I first read about it, but well worth it! So good to add to pastas and soups, to boost the protein and flavour. I found a few recipes, but ended up tweaking and adjusting and coming up with one of my own that worked really well. I have presented the recipe as "per 500g of mince" so you can double it or triple it if you would like to make more. I used 1kg of mince when I made a batch.
500g lean beef mince
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon mixed herbs
1 tablespoon beef stock paste (or a stock cube)
oil for frying
large, heavy-based frying pan
Fry onion in oil until clear, add mince and brown. Drain off fat and add all other ingredients. Bring to the boil, turn down and simmer without a lid until mixture if fairly dry. The dryer you can get it the less time it will require in the dehydrator, just watch to make sure the mixture doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan.
Line trays with baking paper and spread out the mince as thinly and evenly as possible.
Set your dehydrator to 65℃ and 7 hours drying time. Halfway through drying, flip chunks of the mixture over using a fish slice, so the bottom can dry better. Three-quarters of the way through, crumble the mixture up using your fingers. When it is done, the mixture will rattle like dried seeds.
The total wet weight of a one kilo mince mix (two times the recipe above) was 1150g (10 half-cup portions at 115g each).
Once dehydrated, the mixture weighed 420g (42g a portion), which was a loss of 730g of water. This meant:
for each 42g portion you need to add around 75g/75mL of water (which is 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon)
the mince will need to be brought to the boil and then simmered for 10-15 minutes to fully rehydrate
see my One-pot Pasta meal recipe for a way to use your dried savoury mince mix
you could also make a hearty beef and veggie soup using the savoury mince!