by Debra J. Martin Feddersen, Winona County Master
I recently was backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail and really appreciated the time I invested to dehydrate some of my food. Putting dehydrated apples into my oatmeal was a pleasant treat. I was able to enjoy strawberry leather, dried peas and cucumber chips that I dehydrated from my garden. You do not need to be a hiker to preserve and enjoy the fruits of your labor. As with any method for food preservation starting with fresh, quality produce is a must.
To prepare the vegetables cut them into serving size pieces. Vegetables need to be blanched before dehydrating them to stop the enzymes that could cause them to over ripen, even when dried. To blanch, use one gallon of boiling water per pound of produce. Once the water has come to a boil, add the vegetables and boil for 2-3 minutes. Actual time is dependent on size. Cool immediately in ice water for 2-3 minutes. Once the vegetables are drained, put them on a baking sheet (if dehydrating in your oven) or on dehydrator trays. If using your oven, set it for 140 degrees Celsius with a fan for air movement. Keep the oven door open 2-6 inches and rotate the food occasionally until the vegetable is crisp, but not burnt. If using a dehydrator, follow the manufactures temperature settings. Once dried, store in airtight containers.
For fruit, peel, core and slice. To block the activity of the enzymes a pretreatment of antioxidants and sugar work better than heat to maintain the texture of the fruit and the loss of vitamins. The best antioxidant is ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and it can be purchased at grocery stores in the canning/preservation section. You just need to follow the instructions on the package. If you want to sweeten the fruit, you can add sugar (to taste). Once pretreated, put them on a baking sheet or dehydrator tray and dry at 140 degrees Celsius (oven) or as the dehydrator suggest. Dry until it is not sticky, allow to cool and then store in airtight containers.
Removing water will stop the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, but it will not kill them so keep your dried fruits and vegetables in airtight containers such as ziplock bags or mason jars with an airtight lid. If properly dried, your produce will be good for a year.
Obviously there is more information on preserving food by dehydration. A great resource is found at extension.umn.edu/food-safety/preserving-and-preparing. Also, do you have an active interest in gardening? Do you have a desire to share your gardening interest with others? To learn about becoming a University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer, contact Marianne Duffy Hohenner at email@example.com.