Having spent about 10 days away from garden and a Real Kitchen ™, I’ve been a bit “domestic” the last couple of days. Catching things up on watering in the garden. Checking food inventory, etc.
Along the way, saw that I still had 1/2 of a large pumpkin, “Cinderella” type I think, in the freezer from last Halloween. I’d canned 1/2 and ran out of jars so just froze the rest. Well, 1/2 a pumpkin, even if in large 1/4 moon slices, takes up a lot of valuable freezer space. On the Tax Run to California, I also picked up my food drier. Bought a decade or two ago, but still “new in box”…
Well, one thought leads to another and I decided now would be a good time to give it a try. Short form: It works great. The space reduction for vegetables is dramatic.
I started 2 days ago with some carrots. We had a big bag in the fridge and they did not get any younger while I was gone. Nor, it seems, does anyone else in the house cook with raw carrots… So I picked out about 1/2 dozen, scraped the skin off with the back of a knife, removed about 1/4 inch of each end, and then sliced into about 1/4 inch (6 mm or so) thick slices. Vegetables get a 3 to 5 minute blanch in boiling water then in ice water to stop the cooking. Arranged on a couple of trays (it is a 4 tray NESCO “American Harvest” drier & jerky maker) and let run at about 135 F for 6 to 9 hours (depending on vegetable in question, wetness, and thickness of cut… also your humidity).
About 6 or 7 hours later, I had about a cup of shriveled up little carrot bits. Chewing on one, it seemed to taste fine. Into a jar and stored in a “cool dry place”. someday to be added to some soup or stew.
Then the next day at the store, bags of fresh green beans were on sale for something like $1.69. I got two. One for eating as fresh green beans. The other? Ends bobbed, cut in half, and into the blanch, cool, dry process. I now have about a 12 oz jar of dried green beans too.
Which brought me to the pumpkin. I’d set it out to defrost while I did the beans. Opening the zip lock bags it was stored in; a LOT of liquid came out. Seems that pumpkin is mostly water and freezing punctures the cells and lets a lot of it out…
It was originally cut into wedges along the lines of longitude. About a dozen slices I think. These were now each sliced into slices along the latitudes. Each cut giving a slice about 1/4 inch, but some closer to 1/8 and some nearly 1/2 inch. It seems frozen then thawed pumpkin is somewhat mushy and floppy… It would be easier with fresh not frozen pumpkin. I have a ‘blue’ one on the counter from last October that will be dried in a couple of days… Yes, it has kept well for a good 1/2 year now.
Again the blanch (but in a much bigger pot) and cool in ice water bath. Onto the trays. I did one batch of 2 trays last night. The pumpkin shrinks dramatically into very thin wafers. Some thicker cuts took nearly 12 hours to dry completely. Thinner bits were done at about 7 hours.
Today was a kind of mini-marathon of the rest of the pumpkin. I now have a completely full dryer load running. I’ve also recovered a very nice chunk of the freezer space. About 11 PM I’ll be putting the dry bits in a quart jar.
Now I just need to figure out how to use it in cooking something I want to eat ;-)
I’m not real sure this is the best pumpkin for eating. It was sold for decoration. But it has been a great pumpkin for learning the dryer.
As with most food preservation, the prepping of the food is the most work and time. Peeling, cutting, heating, cooling, etc. The actual time and work to use the drier (or a canner) is small compared to all the rest.
It is a very easy device to use. Lay stuff on the tray, turn it on, come back many hours later.
The volume taken up by the stored food is dramatically reduced. For anyone with space issues looking to store some prep food, dry or freeze dried is your friend.
Now that I’ve actually used it, I’ll be using it a lot more. We regularly have too many carrots, or celery that’s not going to be used up before it goes bad. Canning it takes jars, washing them, and is a bit of a project. Just slicing some vegetable and laying it on a tray is trivial to do. There’s going to be less waste from the fridge and more jars of dried stuff.
It also ought to make things like soups and stews easier to make as all the cutting and peeling is already done. Hopefully the flavor of a soup made with dried vegetables (for at least some of them) will still be fine. I’ll find out.
In theory, I can also make things like dried banana chips and other fruits. This will become valuable when my banana trees start to give me way too many bananas! Then there’s jerky. I’ll do that after I’ve got vegetables and fruits mastered. Reading the booklet that came with it, looks like cut meat thin, soak in a “cure” and spices, put on the rack on high (190F) and come back later… Details TBD.
Overall, I’m happy with it. The sound is a soft whirring, about like a fan running in another room. I’ve not had to clean it yet so we’ll see how hard that is. (The carrots and beans left nothing to clean, only the pumpkin is drippy / sloppy…)
If anyone else has used a food drier and has recommended recipes for using dried vegetables and fruits, feel free to offer advice. I’m a novice with these ingredients. I’ve used freeze dried from cans, but that is a different product that re-hydrates more like the original material.
I also don’t know how well / how long a jar of this stuff keeps on a shelf. For now, I’m keeping a tight lid on them and putting them in the fridge. A couple of jars in the fridge is nearly no space compared to what they replaced.
So with that, back to all the political Clown Show our world has become…
@EM – just wondering, which brand/model of dryer did you choose?
This one, NESCO FD-80A:
Not their biggest or most expensive, but I liked the squarish shape as a more efficient use of counter space.
Note that I didn’t do a huge search nor optimized choice. It’s a “under $100” device so wasn’t going to break me if it was only so-so. These folks are a major maker and I figured it would be good enough to get started.
That was about 15+ years ago… and I’ve only just now done my first batch. Why? Well, sloth and being busy with other stuff. Also I’d figured on doing some drying after I ran out of canning jars, but I didn’t run out of jars. Until now. Most of my jars are still in storage right now.
So others might be better, or worse. I’m happy with this one so far.
We’ve got an old dehydrator that my wife has had for years. No fan or temperature control, just a low wattage heating element and ventilation. I pulled it out recently to start drying herbs and other items. I hadn’t thought of doing veggies, but that’s something I’ll have to look into.
Dehydrators are great, but if you become interested in putting away large quantities of food, including complete meals, I can recommend a Harvest Right freeze dryer. About 3 yrs in with mine and I’ve easily put away a couple of freezers worth of food and meals, all shelf stable with a 10-20 yr expected life. I was skeptical based on experience with backpacker freeze dried food. But the industrial process values speed over quality. I find that homemade FD food comes out about the same as if it has been frozen.
Not a cheap purchase by any means. But it has greatly exceeded my expectations.
On my long term want list… First I need to get a big enough garden going to justify it (and start catching a lot more fish ;-)
At present, between “Dry Goods”, canned goods (both commercial and DIY), and my freezer capacity; I’m doing pretty good. There’s only two of us now, after all. So probably somewhere around 6 months of food stored if you include the dry beans & rice. Yeah, really boring after a while, but will keep you alive.
I need to also get my boxes of jars here (and fill them with DIY canned goods).
But now that I’ve used the dryer, I’m going to get into DIY Jerky and maybe even some dried fish of some kind. It was common in pre-1900’s to have dried / salted fish used in various dishes. I’d like to get those skills going.
For now, even the drier is just in the “learning stage”. I don’t really have a lot of garden produce to process just yet. Plus, now that I’ve done some carrots & green beans; I need to start learning to cook with them.
So thanks for the recommendation. Most likely about a year from now, maybe two, I’ll be getting one.
FWIW, I actually like F.D. camping meals; and found the “survivalist” canned F.D. vegetables very easy to use. (Had a dozen or so cases of it I’d bought some 40 years ago. Used up most of it during various “hard times” economically. Did end up tossing some cans at about 30 years (things like dehydrated milk that got a bit funky) when cleaning out the garage once ;-) Yeah, stored in a very hot garage due to house getting full…
So I’ve got the desire, and the means, but not the schedule nor organized space yet…
Originally drying was done on a blanket in the sun on hot dry days…
Just about any warm & dry will do. If I lived in a dry hot desert, I’d just make a bug screen box to put over trays on the patio table ;-)
One of my major complaints about “modern” stoves is that they now shut off under about 175 F. This is to “protect you” from pathogens growing in warm food.
The old gas stove I grew up with had a pilot flame just big enough to keep it nicely warm. Worked for raising bread, making yogurt, and long slow drying of things. All those functions now require buying or making a special purpose appliance. Just stupid. (I’ve made yogurt with a cardboard box, light bulb on a dimmer, thermometer, and a jar with lid. Now they have even made getting the light bulbs hard…) It also was the case you could dry fruits, vegetables, and make jerky in the oven by just barely lighting the burner and leaving the door ajar.
I think I need to find me an old gas oven somewhere ;-)
So yeah, an old “warm box with ventilation” is all it really takes.
Biggest limitation so far on processing rate? Ice cubes.
No, really! I’m waiting for my ice maker to make enough more to do the raw pumpkin on the counter. I used up all the prior ice in the “post blanch” cool down ice bath. Now I’ve got to wait for more… I suspect in a big summer garden push, a purchased bag of ice might be needed.
‘It’s only the 2 of us’ has gotten me a few times, lol. I didn’t really understand how much we ate until I started dating all the food coming into the house.
I like ground beef jerky. It’s different than sliced, but good and often cheaper than using cuts. A jerky gun is handy, it’s tedious to get uniform strips by hand. The leaner the better for the beef, quite a bit of fat renders with 80/20 ground beef. I dry beef at 115, much lower than most recommend. The food safety excuse for high drying temps seems overblown to me, and a case can be made that lower temp drying is nutritionally better.
Pretty sure appliance incandescent bulbs have not been banned yet. We have to crack the oven door for bread rising or it gets too warm with a 40w bulb.
@EM: “I’ve made yogurt with a cardboard box, light bulb on a dimmer, thermometer, and a jar with lid. ”
My house has a water heater in it’s own closet. Perfect for making yogurt. Just sit the jar on top and close the door. If your heater is a little too hot, just sit the jar on top of a folded cloth to insulate the bottom a bit.