Home-Dried Fruits and Vegetables
Here you'll find specific instructions for more than 30 types each of vegetables and fruits, including recommendations for pretreatment where appropriate. They are all listed in alphabetical order, with a few exceptions where some foods are combined because their dehydrating information and uses are the same (such as parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips, or blueberries and huckleberries). Approximate drying times are given for a dehydrator using a target temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit for most vegetables and 135 F for most fruit (note, however, that candied fruit uses a target temperature of 145 F). If you dehydrate at a higher or lower temperature, your times will change accordingly; variables such as humidity and the total amount of food in your dehydrator will also affect drying time, sometimes dramatically, so use the times given as a general guideline.
If you're just getting into dehydrating foods, fruits are a great place to start. They're easy to dry, and the finished product is similar to familiar store-bought dried fruits — although you'll be able to make a variety of home-dried fruits that far exceeds what you'll find at the grocery store. Most are great eaten out of hand as a snack, and they are also easy to rehydrate for use in pies, cobblers, and other familiar fruit-based dishes. Dried fruits are easy to store, too, requiring no refrigeration (although for long-term storage, dried fruits are best when frozen).
Many fruits can be dried without any pretreatment: simply wash well, then cut up as needed, load onto the dryer trays, and proceed with drying. Other fruits are best with pretreatment, ranging from a quick dip in acidulated water or another solution, to blanching with steam or boiling water, to syrup-blanching. The individual listings below indicate any pretreatment that is recommended. Note that pretreatments are optional; the recommended pretreatments will produce the best results, but this step can be skipped if you prefer to avoid the added steps or additional ingredients.
Finally, most fruits can be used to make tasty fruit leathers (often called roll-ups). Many fruits lend themselves to "sun" jam, a delightful treat that can be made in the dehydrator as well as by the traditional sun-cooking method.
Vegetables are often the mainstay of the dried-foods pantry because they can be used in so many ways. Rehydrated beets, corn, cauliflower, and winter squash, for example, look just like fresh-cooked vegetables and can be served by themselves to bring the taste of the harvest to any meal, any time of year. Other dried vegetables work best when used in hearty soups, stews, casseroles, or other dishes. Dried vegetables are easy to store and take up less room than canned or frozen vegetables.
Some dried vegetables can be enjoyed in the dried state; dried cauliflower chunks, thinly sliced parsnips, and radish slices make unusual out-of-hand snacks, and dried cucumber slices are wonderful when crumbled to top green salads. Powder made from dried vegetables can be used to make broth or to enrich soups and other liquids; vegetable powder can also be added to meatloaf and casseroles. Most dried vegetables, however, are rehydrated before use.
Depending on how you want to use them once they're dry, most vegetables should be sliced, chopped, or shredded before dehydrating. Some vegetables are best when blanched in steam or boiling water before dehydrating; this slows down enzymatic activity that would otherwise cause the dried vegetables to lose quality during storage. Like apples and some other fruits, potatoes, parsnips, and salsify benefit from pretreating to minimize darkening. Pretreatments, including blanching, are optional; the pretreatments recommended in the listings of individual vegetables will ensure the highest quality, particularly during storage, but it's up to you.
Compared to fruits, vegetables are naturally low in both acid and sugar, which means that they're more prone to spoilage and attack by harmful organisms (This is also why vegetables can't be canned in a water-bath canner unless they are pickled). Modern food science dictates that sun-drying should not be used for vegetables, due to risk of increased bacterial growth. Tomatoes and tomatillos are exempt from this caution because they are actually fruits, with enough acid to prevent problems. Shell beans, black-eyed peas, and crowder peas may also be dried in the sun if they are left on the vines until partially dry. Small hot chile peppers can also be sun-dried. Instructions are not given in this book for sun-drying other vegetables; should you choose to do so, the basic techniques are the same as those used for fruits.
Vegetables are not recommended for sun-drying due to increased risk of bacterial growth. Drying temperatures for vegetables should be a bit lower than those used for fruits. Too much heat may cause the cut surfaces of vegetables to harden prematurely. This "case hardening" traps moisture in the center of the piece (this isn't an issue with fruits because they contain more moisture and sugar, both of which help prevent case hardening). To avoid this, a target temperature of 125 F is recommended for most vegetables, although some cooks dehydrate vegetables at 135 F.
Some dried vegetables rehydrate very quickly and can be added directly to soups and stews while still in the dry form. These include leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale and small or thin pieces such as diced onions, shredded carrots, and sliced mushrooms. More substantial vegetables such as green beans, sliced carrots, and diced turnips rehydrate more slowly and are best when rehydrated in the methods described below before cooking, whether you're serving them on their own or adding them to other dishes.
Vegetables that have been dried until very crisp or brittle can be powdered and then used to flavor soups, stews, casseroles, and other dishes. A blender works better than a food processor, because in a blender there's less room for the dried food to fly around and away from the blades. A small electric coffee mill/spice grinder is an even better choice; you may want to have one of these dedicated strictly to food so that coffee oils or strong spices don't end up flavoring your vegetable powders. Store vegetable powders in small, tightly sealed glass jars.
Prepared foods such as sauerkraut, baked beans, and thick soups can be dehydrated, then used to make quick and easy meals at home. Not only will you save money by making these ready-to-go meals yourself, but you'll be able to make them to suit your family's tastes.
Home-dried prepared foods are also great for camping and backpacking. At camp, they can easily be rehydrated to produce a quick meal that costs far less than purchased freeze-dried food mixes.
While they can be stored at cool room temperature for a few weeks, home-dried prepared foods that are high in fat or that contain meat will turn rancid or develop off tastes during long-term storage unless they are kept refrigerated or, preferably, frozen. To rehydrate, simply add some boiling water and stir well, then let stand for a short time until the food is rehydrated. Heat before serving, adding a little more water if needed.
Use the same solid sheets used when making leathers. Spread the food out evenly, about 1/4 inch thick, and stir or turn frequently during drying. Use a target temperature of 150 F in a manufactured dehydrator or in the oven. If using a home-built dehydrator, don't exceed 140 F this works fine but will take longer. Sun-drying is not recommended for prepared foods.
Almost any prepared food that's thick enough to hold its shape on a baking sheet can be dehydrated.
- Sauerkraut should be drained well and rinsed briefly. Spread thinly on sheets and dry until crisp and completely dry, stirring and breaking up the sauerkraut as it begins to dry.
- Baked beans are best when cooked until somewhat dry before dehydrating. If there is meat in the beans, break or cut it up into very small pieces. Spread the mixture thinly on sheets, and crumble as it begins to dry. Continue drying and crumbling until the beans are in clusters of two or three; the sauce will be caked around the beans. The beans should be completely hard and dry inside, and some may "pop" like popcorn. Keep refrigerated or frozen for long-term storage.
- Thick soups such as split pea or potato chowder should be cooked longer or prepared with less liquid so the mixture is thick enough to just hold its shape in a spoon; if you're dehydrating leftover soup, cook it a bit to thicken it before dehydrating. If the soup contains meat, break or cut it up into very small pieces. Spread the soup 1/4 inch thick on sheets, and crumble as the mixture begins to dry. Continue drying and crumbling until the soup is in small crumbles, with no moisture in the center of any. If the soup contains meat, keep refrigerated or frozen for long-term storage.
- Tomato paste is often used in small quantities, leaving you with a partial can of unused paste. The leftover paste can be spread out in a thin layer and dried in a solid sheet like a leather, but it's often more useful to dry it in 1-tablespoon droplets; when you have a recipe that calls for 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, simply add one dried droplet.
- Cooked rice and rice pilaf can be dried, and then used like "instant rice" for future meals. This is particularly useful for brown rice and wild rice, which take a long time to cook. Spread the rice 1/4 inch thick on sheets and stir frequently during drying. Dehydrate until the rice is hard.
- Salsa dehydrates wonderfully and is easy to rehydrate. Spoon off any thin liquid, then spread the salsa about 1/4 inch thick on sheets. Dry until the salsa can be peeled off the sheet, then turn and continue drying until crisp and brittle, crumbling the mixture as it starts to become brittle.
- Barbecue sauce can be spread on solid sheets and dehydrated to make leather that's great for camping or just to have in the pantry. To use, tear into small pieces and rehydrate with a little boiling water.
- Leftover vegetables can be chopped up, then spread on dehydrator sheets and dried until crisp and moisture-free. Use the dried vegetables to add flavor and body next time you're making a soup or stew.
- To hot-soak: place the dried fruit or vegetable in a heatproof bowl and add boiling water or fruit juice to just cover or as directed. Stir and let stand at room temperature until softened.
- To cold-soak: place the dried fruit or vegetable in a mixing bowl and add room-temperature or cold water, or fruit juice, to just cover or as directed. Stir. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
More from The Beginner's Guide to Dehydrating Food:
In The Beginner's Guide to Dehydrating Food, 2nd Edition: How to Preserve All Your Favorite Vegetables, Fruits, Meats, and Herbs, Teresa Marrone dishes out everything readers will need to know to get started dehydrating foods. The book is chock-full of down-to-earth and insight. Whether you're planning on camping or just want to stock up your pantry, this book lays the foundation to get started on dehydrating everything from apricots to zucchini. This excerpt is from Chapter 4, "Fruits and Vegetables."
Excerpted from The Beginner's Guide to Dehydrating Food, by Teresa Marrone © 2018. Photography by Adam DeTour. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.