The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Advantages of drying food

Strawberry leatherAs our regular readers have probably discovered, I'm a big fan of freezing.  About 95% of our vegetables for the year come from the garden, and the ones that aren't fresh plucked or stored on the shelf mostly go in the freezer.  Yes, freezers use electricity, but they also preserve the flavor and nutrients in vegetables better than any other method of storing food, and I put taste first.  So why am I interested in drying?

Although vegetables taste better frozen, I've started to realize that most fruits taste better dried.  In addition, nutritional values of dried foods tend to be on a par with frozen foods since the produce loses only some of its vitamin A and C in the process, but maintains all other nutrients.  Drying has other advantages too, providing backup food that doesn't depend on electricity and that takes up only a very small amount of space.

You can dry food with only a bare minimum of equipment, but the author of How to Dry Foods makes it clear that you'll end up with more nutritious, flavorful food if you buy a dehydrator.  That said, once you've bought the basic equipment, even electric dehydrating costs very little cash compared to the price of buying canning jar lids every year, boiling your hot water bath canner for an hour, or running another freezer.

Food safety is the last point in favor of drying over canning.  Although dried food can go bad, there's no hidden killer like botulism --- you'll be able to smell or see mold growing on your food and can just toss it.

Sun-dried tomatoesAs long as you choose the foods that taste best dried (more on that in a later post), the only real disadvantage with drying is preparation time.  There's a lot of work involved in slicing up foods to an even thickness and laying them carefully on the tray, and if you don't buy a top of the line dehydrator, you'll end up spending yet more time turning trays around to dry the food evenly and removing pieces that dried faster.  That said, I'm a huge fan of fruit leathers, which take only barely more time to prepare than applesauce.  If you like the taste of fresh fruit, it's worth trying out drying.

This month's 99 cent ebook tells how to make a worm bin, survey your site, understand nutrition, and calculate your real hourly wage.

This post is part of our How to Dry Foods lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Anna say I wanted to build my own dehydrator, what is the best type of screen to use. I guess I am just worried about the aluminum that most window screens are made of.
Comment by David Tue Jun 7 20:26:14 2011

I just realized that I've filled the freezer today. And I still have a lot of growing season left to go. How long do fruit leathers store for? If I could eat up my frozen fruit, then I'd have the space to store the fall harvest of veggies. I'm like you, the freezer may take up electricity but frozen veggies taste just so much better and the nutrition is almost as good as fresh.

Comment by diggitydog Tue Jun 7 20:36:55 2011

Funny how I've been silent forever, simply reading about your goings on, and suddenly I have things to contribute. Anyway, as soon as I saw your little comment about buying lids every year, I remembered a link I'd saved. I hate that one-time canning lids are so wasteful and found a site awhile back selling reusable canning lids. I haven't gotten a chance to buy any of them myself (oh, money woes...), but I just love the idea. Maybe you could give a few a try? They're very reasonable prices last I looked.

Comment by Brandy Wed Jun 8 01:26:20 2011

David --- From what I've read, plastic screens are the safest. A lot of people find junked dehydrators (the round ones seem to stop working in a heartbeat) and just reuse the screens from those. Definitely don't use galvanized, and I wouldn't be happy with aluminum either.

Diggitydog --- Coincidentally, our dehydrator arrived yesterday and I thawed out the bits of last year's fruit still in the freezer to turn into experimental leather so I'll have space to put lots more food in. To answer your question, fruit leather's longevity will depend a lot on how dry you make it, whether you pretreat the fruit, and the temperature you store it at. I'm putting my strawberry leather in the freezer (much smaller now, though!) and setting out the last-year's-fruit leather for snacks to be consumed soon. I've read, though, that if you dry the fruit thoroughly and pretreat with sulfur, you can expect up to a year of storage in a cool, dark place.

Brandy --- I've heard about reusable canning lids, but whenever I look into them, they seem to be very expensive. On the other hand, I haven't tried very hard because I don't find canned food (with the exception of tomatoes) very tasty....

Comment by anna Wed Jun 8 11:23:15 2011

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