Buying canned goods and extra bags of flour and sugar has been the easiest part of food storage for me. Dehydrating my own food seemed to belong in the same category as spinning my own wool. Yes, it can be done, but why would I want to go through all the trouble??!
I found out for myself that dehydrating food is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to stock up. Now, if I say it’s easy, you know. It’s easy! The foods are fresh with no additives of any kind, so I know exactly what my family is consuming. I save money since commercially dried fruits and herbs, in particular, have a premium price at the market.
If you need even more convincing, here are my top reasons for learning how to dehydrate food:
- Dehydrated fruits and veggies have intense, INTENSE! flavors! Each thin slice of dehydrated tomato packs a wallop of flavor that you don’t find in a fresh slice. Something amazing happens to the flavor once all the water has been removed.
- It offers something different in the healthy snack category. My kids are loving the applesauce fruit leather they made themselves. They never get bored because one day it’s apple-cinnamon leather, another day it’s apple-peach leather, and a tasty apple-strawberry version is on tap for tomorrow! A #10 can of applesauce from Sam’s Club or Costco provides sheets and sheets of fruit leather, one of the easiest snacks in the world to pack in a lunch bag or backpack.
- Something is always in season! The best bargains in produce are usually found when a particular fruit or vegetable is in season. Farmer’s markets, food co-ops, fruit stands, and pick-your-own-produce farms can offer amazing bargains. All that fresh goodness is easily transformed into dehydrated versions at a cost far less than commercially dehydrated foods.
- Food dehydration is simple! Basic dehydrators can be picked up on Craigslist or eBay. You don’t need anything fancy. My dehydrator is very basic, but it does the job just fine. Unlike canning, you don’t need a lot of additional equipment, and the internet is filled with websites that give directions for dehydrating every type of food imaginable!
- Variety! One day you can dehydrate apples and the next, pasta sauce! Cook up several pounds of ground beef and turn them into, “hamburger rocks”! When you find #10 cans of a fruit or veggie on sale, pour out the liquid, and place the food on your dehydrator trays for a few hours. Bags of frozen vegetables dehydrate just as easily.
- Dehydrated foods don’t lose their nutritional value and maintain water soluble vitamins and minerals.
- Dehydrate your own herbs and you’ll never have to pay top dollar for them again nor watch them rot in the fridge.
- If space is an issue, dehydrated foods are your friend! Twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes filled two large glass jars in my pantry once they were sliced and dehydrated!
- You’ll never have to run to the grocery store at the last minute for carrots or onions or potatoes or celery or green beans if you have jars of the dehydrated versions in your pantry.
Easy First Foods
I purchased a NESCO American Harvest dehydrater on Craigslist for $30 one January morning and went to work. I’ve had some hits and misses, but here is what I’ve had the best luck with so far.
Easy, easy, easy and so good! Buy #10 cans of peaches at Costco for $5 or so. Pour the fruit into a colander and rinse with water. Lay out the peach slices on the dehydrator trays and dry at a medium setting until the peaches are chewy. These are a great travel snack and will last for years if you store them using a Foodsaver system.
It’s amazing how quickly these dry and are ready for storage. I love having jars of fresh herbs and have saved a pretty penny because I no longer have to buy fresh and then need them for a recipe only after they’ve turned slimy.
Buy a #10 can of applesauce at Costco for right around $5. Spread a thin layer of applesauce on a plastic tray and dehydrate. When it is dry, you have your own fruit leather! Roll it up, and store. Add cinnamon, pureed strawberries or peaches, or anything else you can think of for variety. My kids love this treat.
This is another veggie that spoils all too quickly. Slice, dry, store. Couldn’t be easier! Dried shrooms can even be ground into a powder and added to sauces and gravies for flavor.
Sliced carrots and celery
These are a staple in my soups and stews, and I hate having to run out to the store when I don’t have them on hand. Again, slice, dry, store!
One of my camping-crazy friends dehydrates sheets of spaghetti sauce, re-hydrates them with water over a camp stove and has almost-instant pasta sauce. She’s also been known to make hamburger rocks in her dehydrator.
Here’s how to dehydrate an entire recipe — Dehydrated to Death Chili
2 cans tomato sauce
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1/4 c. chopped yellow onion
1 T. chili powder
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/8 t. ground black pepper
In a food dehydrator, dehydrate the tomato sauce, kidney beans and chopped onions. To dehydrate the sauce, spread it evenly on two fruit leather trays and dry until it can be easily peeled up and no moisture remains. The dehydration time for these three ingredients varies from dehydrator to dehydrator, but plan on at least six hours.
To store, combine the sauce, beans, onion and seasonings in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, a Food Saver bag or even a Zip-Loc bag, depending on how long you wish to store it. The sauce can be rolled up or even torn or cut into small pieces to better fit into the jar.
Cooking the dehydrated chili is a dream. Pour the dry ingredients in a large saucepan or pot, along with four cups of water. Cook over medium heat for at least 15-20 minutes or until the beans are completely rehydrated. You can add cooked meat or canned tomatoes at this point, if you wish. As the chili heats, the sauce thickens quite nicely, but you may want to add a bit more water for a thinner consistency. Of course you can cook this in your Sun Oven! Just place the ingredients in a covered pot and set outside in your oven for a couple of hours.
Serve alone, over rice, topped with grated cheddar cheese, saltines, tortilla chips, sour cream, or your own preferred chili toppings.
Get creative by making your own produce powders
What if you could take the tastiest essence of nearly any fruit or vegetable and put it in a handy form you could use in sauces, soups, salad dressings, and even as a mix-in with yogurt or ice cream. Would you be interested? Well, when you create your own powders from dehydrated produce, that’s exactly the product you end up with!
Take a bushel of fresh, juicy vine-ripened tomatoes, slice them up, toss them (figuratively) on food dehydrator trays, and a few hours later you get have dehydrated tomato slices, ready for long-term storage. For a perfect homemade tomato powder, just put several slices in a blender, I use a Magic Bullet, push ‘on’ and in moments you have tomato powder. With this powder and a little water, you can make your own tomato paste, tomato sauce, and a tasty tomato-based salad dressing. It’s a great backup to the tomato products you have in your pantry.
Try this same trick with dehydrated mushrooms. Stir your mushroom powder in with ground beef for the tastiest meatballs and hamburgers ever or add to gravy. Personally, I love the flavor of jalapenos and have been watching for a good sale so I can try out jalapeno powder in my scrambled eggs.
You have nothing to lose other than a few ounces of dehydrated produce by experimenting a little. Make your own celery and onion powders. Do you love the flavor of eggplant? What might your meatloaf taste like with a little eggplant powder sprinkled in? These homemade powders make experimenting easy and provide yet another reason to dehydrate your own foods!
Budget Benefits of Dehydrating
This doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. Seek out farmer’s markets, produce co-ops, produce stands, and the like to get the freshest food at the lowest prices. Check Craiglist, Freecyle and eBay for bargains on dehydrators. The Excalibur brand is considered to be top of the line, but there are directions online for making your own from scratch.
Amazon carries a number of different dehydrators in all price ranges.
This post was updated in 2020 from the original posting on June 18, 2009.
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