Solar food drying could quite possibly be one of the easiest things you can do to preserve the harvested food from your homestead — and it’s awesome! We have dried veggies in the solar food dehydrator at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS office tons of times. It seems like someone is always taking advantage of this summer’s incredible heat and abundant sunshine by drying anything and everything. Why not use this totally simple food preservation process?
We’ve dried dill (Anethum graveolens), zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) and other summer squash, but most often, we have dried tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum). For one of the first rounds of tomato drying, Heidi dried yellow pear tomatoes. The only real work involved in drying these little bursts of flavor was cutting them in half and placing them on the drying sheet. The whole preparation process only lasted as long as it took Heidi to cut each tomato, which came out to about five minutes.
Solar food drying takes only minimal effort after the initial prep process. You just have to check to make sure the dehydrator’s internal temperature is where you want it to be, which should usually be between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Regulating this is made easy by the vents on the back of the box. It’s important to only vent as much as you need to though — I unknowingly vented too much when we dried dill one time and it required us to let the dill dry for another day after we discovered my mistake. Woops!
You can let the food dry as long as you want to get your desired level of dehydration, but Heidi only left her tomatoes in the solar dehydrator for one day. In another round of tomato drying, Cheryl left her 'Juliet' tomatoes in the dryer for two days.
When Cheryl dried the 'Juliet' tomates, which are a small, meaty, highly disease- and crack-resistant tomato sort of like a mini-Roma, she tried slitting each one up the back side in addition to cutting them in half. She hoped this would speed the drying process along because the juices could escape a little quicker. Though there wasn’t a control group to actually test this theory, it definitely didn’t seem to hinder the process at all. It did make the tomatoes dry a little flatter than they might have had she not cut the backs.
Heidi spread her tomatoes out widely across the solar food dryer sheet, which is more of a mesh screen, but Cheryl packed hers a little closer. One full sheet of 'Juliets' produced about 1 quart of dried tomatoes.
Seriously, solar drying is easier than easy. If you can get your hands on a solar food dehydrator, definitely do it. You’ll never want to stop. We found ours as a kit, available from SunWorks Solar Food Dryers.
Photos by Megan Hinman