This is the best way to dry food. There are many different kinds of electric dehydrators, and they all work well. If you want to get the BEST one, however, we recommend the Excalibur Dehydrator. It has the most efficient design to dry food evenly, and also has an adjustable thermostat. So you can turn the heat down for drying delicate things like herbs, or turn it up for vegetables, or turn it to medium heat for fruits. Slice or shred fruits or vegetables and space them evenly on the drying racks. Set to recommended temperature and rotate the racks every few hours until all are dry. Recommended drying times and instructions will come with your machine.
This is tricky, because if your oven doesn't have a low enough setting, you will end up with charcoal-dried fruits or vegetables. Slice the vegetables or fruit in ¼ inch slices or chunks. Spread out on cookie sheet being careful to leave airspace between each slice—works best with parchment paper to make for easy clean-up. Turn oven on warm (lowest setting possible) and turn over every few hours until dry.
Only do this if you have a special rack made with screens all the way around to keep the flies off the food until it is dry.
So what can you dry? Any fruit and almost any vegetable! (Some fruits, like bananas, have a tendency to turn brown very quickly. To slow this down, you can soak them for 5 minutes in pineapple juice before drying. ) You can also be creative and dry things like leftover mashed potatoes or mashed chili beans, for an instant meal camping, backpacking, or even at home. Other fun ideas are blended fruits for fruit leather (need special fruit leather trays for that).
Using Dehydrated Food
Now the big question... what do you do with the dried stuff? Dried vegetables are wonderful in soups, spaghetti sauces, or vegetable sauces. You can throw them in with couscous, add some extra water and seasonings, and cook together into an instant vegetable casserole. Dried fruits make great treats, desserts, or healthy snacks. They also can be reconstituted as fruit sauces or blended into jam. Be creative!
The Safe Methods of Canning:
Reason-- Guaranteed even distribution of heat and thorough cooking of fruit or vegetables all
the way through and killing all bacteria possible.
The water bath is a canner that completely submerges the jars in boiling water. It works well for any fruits, pickles, or tomatoes. Read your instruction manual and follow the directions carefully. If you do not have an instruction manual, you can find one on the Internet in a .pdf format that you can either download or print.
This is for any types of beans, vegetables, and animal products because they have a low acidity content, making them have a high risk of botulism. (Exceptions include pickling vegetables and canning tomatoes or tomato products that have lemon juice or vinegar added to them to increase the acidity. These you can do with other methods)
Pressure Canners come in a variety of different types. Some have weights on the top, others have pressure gauges. The best thing to do is to read your instruction manual thoroughly before using, and follow the instructions listed. If you do not have an instruction manual, you can find one on the Internet in a .pdf format that you can either download or print.
The Unsafe Methods of Canning:
Reason-- Distribution of heat has potential to be slightly uneven, increasing risk of bacteria
remaining in food.
Disclaimer-- use at your own risk. Sterilize your jars. Make sure jars are evenly spaced during
canning process with air circulation around each jar. Be careful to check for any sign of food
spoilage before eating contents of jars. Use an oven thermometer to know the real temps.
Warning-- DO NOT USE these methods for vegetables (other than pickles or tomatoes), or
beans because of risk of botulism. DO NOT USE these methods for meat or dairy products.
The steamer canner has a couple inches of water in the bottom, with a rack to suspend the jars above the water. Then a lid comes down over the top, sealing the jars inside, with two little holes to let steam come out. It works for fruits, pickles and tomato products and steams the jars, rather than boils them under water. Read your instruction manual and follow the directions carefully. If you do not have an instruction manual, you can find one on the Internet in a .pdf format that you can either download or print.
Oven canning is the riskiest types of canning, because every oven cooks differently and has different places with cold pockets. Know your oven well—if you know that one side of the oven cooks cooler than another, arrange your jars accordingly. Never put more than 12 quarts or 20 pints into the oven in one batch, unless you have an oversize oven. It is VERY important that the jars have space evenly on all sides. Always start with a COLD oven. Place prepared jars directly on the racks, centering them so they don't tip over. This allows air circulation under the jars, as well. Bake at 250F for the allotted time. You will know they are ready if you see little bubbles starting to come up the sides of the jar—this means they have reached the boiling point inside the jar. Leave the oven door closed, shut off oven, and allow to cool for 30 minutes, before removing carefully from the oven.
For sliced fruits and tomatoes, around 1 hr 15 min baking, and 30 minutes of cooling in oven.
For sauces or salsa or puree, around 60 minutes of baking, and 30 minutes of cooling in oven.
For sliced pickles, around 30 minutes of baking and 1 hour of cooling in oven.
Any fruit can be frozen with almost no preparation. Freeze in zip-lock freezer bags, plastic freezer containers, or in glass jars. Always allow some expansion room when filling containers or jars. Life expectancy for most fruit is one year for bags or plastic containers, and up to 2 or 3 years in glass jars.
Berries: Freeze whole, unwashed (except strawberries can be washed and stemmed). If you need to wash the fragile berries, rinse them gently just before use, while still frozen.
For sweetened berries, rinse, cut to size desired, and mix with fruit juice concentrate or other sweetener. Let sit for a couple minutes, then transfer to containers or jars, juice and all.
Peaches and other whole fruits: Blanch and peel if desired, or just leave skins on. Slice and remove inedible parts or bruises. Freeze as is, or mix with fruit juice concentrate or other sweetener to prevent discoloration. Let sit for a couple minutes, then put into freezer containers or jars, juice and all.
Vegetables can be frozen raw, whole or cut, but use them within 3-6 months, or they will begin to loose color and get tough and chewy. This is because there are enzymes in them that continue to mature the vegetables—even in the freezer. To prevent this from happening, and if you want to be able to keep them for a year in the freezer, blanching is the best way to do it. See Freezing Vegetables Chart for instructions on how to blanch and freeze vegetables.