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Garden Journal

Ending a wet summer on a drier note with a food dehydrator

Are your windows jammed or your rubber-soled shoes adhering to the hardwood floors? Front doors a wee bit stuck? My, we’ve had some wet and humid weather of late. Looking back at the garden season this year it was a bit off overall; some gardens did very well and some did not. We had a cold wet spring and a rainy July, the month of August never really got going and now we are into September and, in my yard anyway, the tomatoes are finally, starting to ripen, Now I have too many.

So, let’s say we start September on a drier note. With all of the attention the media have given us recently about the safety of our food supply, I thought I would contribute my personal experience (and feelings) to address a more positive approach. If metal cans and plastics are no longer a safe way to protect and store fresh foods, why not look to an even older method of preserving food?

Food drying has been around since ancient times and for a good reason. Fruits and vegetables were dried in the sun or on an open stove and could be stored and kept almost indefinitely. There were no preservatives, freezers or chemicals although salt was widely used to preserve meats and sugar was used to extend the shelf life of fruits just like they are today.

If corn seeds from 1,000 years ago can still be revitalized, we can enjoy healthy produce that we know is pure and fresh from our local gardens through drying methods.

I like to follow the simple principal of KISS, which means, keep it simple and sensible. I purchased a basic, small, counter-top food dryer manufactured by a company well known for its countertop rotisserie, which I own and have used for many years. The food dryer was beyond idiot proof, just slice the food and place the slices on the trays and rotate layered trays after several hours. It is constantly in use, and I am not trying to sound like a commercial but it really is easier to use than roasting a turkey at Thanksgiving!

I dried apples, plums, turkey and mushrooms. It was fun and interesting to discover what worked and what did not. How thickly you slice different foods will make the difference between chewy and crunchy results. Apples are so good for you and dried apples are a healthy treat you can take with you anywhere, they keep a long time and are well worth the initial cost of making them at home. A small, five-tray dehydrator costs about $39. I look at it as an investment into my own healthy living plan.

My great-grandfather used to dry onions on racks. He purchased yellow onions in sets every spring from the local farm store. In fall, he would place the whole, golf-ball sized onions on racks made of chicken wire. The onions would be left out to dry in the sun, and he would be frantic to cover them when it rained. The end result was a delicacy that lasted all winter. I also found an old wooden box of his that had once contained beans, It had a date of 1879 written on it, those beans were always saved for seed, as canning beans was the primary go-to method for many farmers back then.

One of my household members was an avid tomato-hater . . . until the dried tomatoes from the food dryer came out. They are delicious and chewy and tart by themselves and I use them in many dishes. This was the perfect solution for too many tomatoes! Store the dried tomatoes covered in olive oil in glass containers and keep this concoction in the fridge for several weeks, or freeze them whole and dried until needed.

Ever grow a giant zucchini or yellow squash in your garden? Wonder what the heck to do with it? Slice it into 1∕8-inch-thick slices and put it in the food dryer. In one day it makes wonderful dried chips for dipping in hummus or salsa, great for snacks and lunchboxes with no need to refrigerate. Two of us ate an entire giant squash in one sitting without even realizing it, and without feeling full and bloated as you would if you ate the same amount of those store bought, over-salted, over-processed bagged snacks.

Processed foods will soon pale in comparison when there is a delicious alternative to sustaining healthy food choices and what a great way to preserve your entire garden crop.

I’m thinking of getting a second dehydrator just for the fun of it. In addition to drying food, herbs, seeds and flowers, a food dehydrator can also be used for crafts or paper mache.

The list of craft activities will go on long after the gardens have been put to bed for winter.

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