Drying Fruits & Vegetables

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Why do we dry fruits and vegetables?

Drying removes the moisture so mold and bacteria cannot spoil the food. The food gets smaller as it dries, making it easy to store. When it is time to use it, it can be rehydrated and enjoyed. Some fruits and vegetables can also be enjoyed in the dried state. 

A very important part of drying fruits and vegetables is making sure they are cut in uniform sizes. This gives more even drying and you can be sure each piece is completely dry before storage. Fruits that are very juicy are usually cut in halves or quarters, while vegetables are cut smaller because they aren’t as acidic as fruits and could spoil instead of dry.  

Sun-Drying

An easy way to dry produce is to use the sun. The pioneers used sun and air drying to preserve their foods and herbs. They didn’t have fancy food dehydrators like we do today. 

  • Basically, the fruits or vegetables are spread out on some sort of tray or screen, covered with cheesecloth or other breathable cover to keep insects off, and put out in the open air.
  • Most of the drying time should not be in the direct sun, but partially shaded.
  • This opinion varies, and some say the direct sun is fine.
  • Check on the produce more often if you put it in direct sun.
  • It needs to be protected from moisture by putting the produce  under cover at night.
  • The produce should be turned occasionally for uniform drying.
  • You can also string the fruits & vegetables on strong thread and hang it outside or in the house.
  • Start checking for dryness at the end of the second day.
  • Usually outdoor drying is more successful in low-humidity regions. 

You can learn how to dry food without electricity in this article here<<<. 

Foods That Dry Well in The Sun

Not all foods should be dried in the sun, some are much better than others.

The best foods to try for solar dehydration are:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Cherries
  • Figs
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Herbs
  • Mature shell-beans and
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Sweet corn,
  • Sweet potato
  • Onion flakes 

Oven-Drying Food

You can also use the regular oven to dry produce. If you choose this method, you don’t want the upper element in the oven involved. Either don’t turn it on, or put a cookie sheet on the top rack to keep that direct heat off the produce.

If you are using an electric oven, leave the door open to it’s first setting for ventilation. Gas ovens are vented, so don’t need to do this.

  • Preheat the oven to 140 degrees F.
  • If it doesn’t go that low, keep the tray at least 8 inches from the source of heat.
  • A cook-stove oven could be used as well, though you would need to keep a closer eye on it because the oven temperatures vary regularly. 

How do you know when your produce is dry?

Fruits are considered dry when you can’t squeeze any liquid from a piece when cut and when it is somewhat tough and pliable. Vegetables will be brittle or crisp when they are dry. Let the pieces you plan to test cool off before testing. They are softer while they are warm. 

Dehydrators

Dehydrators are very helpful for drying produce. Especially if there is a lot of rain! There are many kinds of dehydrators, so you want to read the instructions for your specific brand.

  • Be sure the produce is cut uniformly, and that the pieces do not touch each other on the racks.
  • You may want to treat fruits, such as apples, that oxidize before you start drying them. 
  • Treat fruits with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.
  • You may want to blanch some vegetables, such as potatoes, before drying to make the process faster.
  • Once the produce is laid out on the racks, start the dehydrator.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your dehydrator.
  • Check for dryness regularly by removing one of the pieces and feeling it.
  • If it feels dry, it probably is.
  • Slice the produce and see if there is any moisture that forms, continue drying time if moisture is noticed.
  • Allow dried produce to cool for about an hour, then pack loosely in jars. 

Storing Dehydrated Fruits and Vegetables

Once you have all of your dehydrated goodies, now it’s time to store them. The biggest thing you want to prevent is moisture getting to your dehydrated food. As we learned earlier in this lesson, moisture causes mold and bacteria, no one wants to eat that!

Moisture is in the air, (we talked about this in week one under water consumption and conservation) so we need to keep the food in and air out. Once your produce is dry, let them cool for one hour before storing. 

Once dried, cool the vegetables for one hour before storing them. Here are some common things to keep in mind when storing dried vegetables.

  • Make sure storage containers are clean and dry.
  • Best to store in a cool dark place, light and heat will cause food to spoil. 
  • Dehydrated foods can be stored in the freezer as well. 
  • Label each container with name of food and date made. 
  • Check dehydrated food often for mold, bad smell, or moisture. Toss in compost if there are any present. 
  • Dehydrated food can last four to twelve months. It can last years if you store them in a vacuum sealed bag!
  • The lower the temperature you store the dehydrated food, the longer it will last. 

Rehydrating 

You can enjoy dried fruits and vegetables as is, or you can rehydrate them.

To rehydrate something you want to cook,

  • Place the food in a pot and add water equal to the amount of food.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer up to 10 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit around 10 minutes, until the food is tender.
  • If you want to rehydrate something to use as is, fill a bowl with cold water.
  • Add the food you want. Pour in twice as much water as food.
  • Let the food soak up to 1 ½ hours.
  • The food should get to about 4 times the dehydrated size, but will still look a bit wrinkly.
  • If you are making soup, you can just put the dehydrated vegetables in it, the broth will rehydrate them. 

Kitchen Skills, Math, Science

Preschool/Kindergarten 

This age group can

  • Lay pieces of produce on trays.
  • Turn the produce when dehydrating if necessary (be very careful as the pieces can be hot).
  • Count how many pieces are being dried.
  • Taste various dried fruits and vegetables.
  • Which are their favorites?
  • Have the children taste the fruit or vegetable before it is dried, and then after. Ask what they notice is different.

Middle School 

Have this age group

  • Choose a couple fruits and a couple vegetables and dry them using the method of their choice.
  • Research the correct way to cut the produce they choose and the length of time it must dry.
  • Keep track of how long each different fruit or vegetable takes to dry.
  • Research why some produce takes longer than others and write down the moisture content.

High School 

This age group can

  • Study about what happens if the produce is not completely dried when it is put in storage.
  • They can dry various fruits and vegetables using one or more of the methods. 
  • Compare the time required for each.
  • Determine if one way of dehydrating food is more economical. Be sure they include the cost of electricity if using the oven or dehydrator – if you are solar, have them take into account the drain on the system.
  • Estimate the cost of producing the dried fruit or vegetable, and then compare that to the cost of buying already dried produce.

Weekly Bible Verse

Psalm 16:1 Preserve me, O God: for in Thee do I put my trust.

When we trust the Lord, He preserves us. He keeps us in His tender care and shows us the way we should go. If we trust the Lord with our homestead and homeschool, He will guide us and
show us the things we need to do and learn. If we ask Him to bless our lives, He will do so

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