Enjoy Seasonal Produce Year-Round with Food Dehydrating

Have you been wanting to try out food dehydrating but uncertain where to start?

It really is very easy to do the basics. Like anything, you can go all fancy and do all sorts of amazing things, but to start with it’s as simple as – wash your produce – chop it up – spread it out on the trays – turn the machine on – and wait! Your Fowlers Ultimate Dehydrator will have come with a booklet explaining how to use the kit, and also how to do some of the more complex food dehydrating tasks like making fruit leather and dried jerky.

Our family uses it for several annual jobs; here’s what we use it for and how.

Dehydrating tomatoes, sliced apples, pears, nectarines and peaches.

We don’t use any sugar or salt (the instructions will tell you not to put salt on your tomatoes anyway, because if it falls into the motor it can contribute to rusting.) To dehydrate any to the above, simply chop them fairly thick and spread them evenly around each tray. Tip: For apples, we HIGHLY recommend one of those apple peeler/corer gadgets – they make it so fast and easy and your apple rings will all be identical thickness. Then, make sure the heat is set to ‘fruit and vegetables’. The instructions say it will take something like 8 hours but we find it takes much longer – ideally, we fill it around lunchtime, leave it all day and overnight, and the next morning they will be nicely dry.

Fruit leather

You have all sorts of choices when it comes to fruit leather, like what to put in the mix and whether to add sugar or not. The only reasons I know of to add sugar are

1. because it helps to keep the colour of the fruit better, and

2. it helps keep the leather more flexible (as opposed to brittle).

If neither of these things matter to you and the fruit is sweet enough on it’s own, don’t bother with sugar. I usually add just a little sugar, mainly for the added flexibility it gives (the kids like to roll it up!) When I first made fruit leather I used 100% nectarine and peaches – delicious but also expensive! These days I use about 60% apple, which I have pre-stewed and blended. I then add the fresh nectarine and peach, blend it all together before layering onto my fruit leather sheets.

Drying celery

If you’ve ever grown celery you might have experienced what I have – I get so much celery at once I can’t use it, and then none for the rest of the year. In frustration one year, I harvested all my celery – green tops, stalks, everything – washed it, chopped it roughly, and threw it in the dehydrator. I was so happy with the results I’ve been doing it ever since. It is just SO lovely to have celery on hand all winter. We throw a handful of dried stalks into each soup or stew, then just fish it out before serving – it has imparted all it’s lovely flavour already.

Some handy tips I’ve learned about food dehydrating.

It is REALLY excellent to have as many drying trays as you can. The kit comes with 4 trays but can stack up to 12 – so the first thing I did was get extra trays so I could process as much as possible at once. This makes it much easier to handle my 80kg of tomatoes I get each year for preserving and dehydrating!

It’s really important to put a little oil on the fruit leather trays before adding your fruit pulp – otherwise once it dries it can be quite sticky and hard to remove from the trays.

Also, when making fruit leather you must get the thickness of your fresh pulp as even as possible so the entire sheet dries at the same rate.

And lastly, when drying foods, your aim should be to dehydrate your foot to the point that it is still flexible and a little soft but not wet. This way you end up with a piece of dried pear you can chew rather than one you break your teeth on!

Happy food dehydrating folks. Feel free to share your experiences, ask questions and add ideas to this post!