For three summers now I’ve been using the sun to dry food in the solar dryers I built. It didn’t take long to work it into my routine, but then I’m available to get the food prepared and in the dryer in the morning and out before the dew settles in the evening. Things like kale, collards, okra and parsley are generally dry in one day, but most other things take two days, maybe more if the weather shifts and brings a little rain. I keep a close eye on the weather when I load the dryers.
The crop I dry the most is tomatoes and I have been trialing varieties specifically meant for drying. I grew Principe Borghese again this year because I knew I could count on it for a good early yield. Although the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog listed it as 78 days to maturity, for the third year in a row now, my harvest has begun about 60 days after transplanting. These tomatoes resemble cherry tomatoes and I don’t particularly enjoy handling so many small ones, but it sure is a dependable crop. I cut these little tomatoes in half or quarters to put them in the solar dryers.
I grew Long Tom tomatoes for the first time this year. They are tasty, very meaty and have few seeds. I cut Long Toms into slices for the dryers. Sometimes I even cut the slices in half (making semi-circles) to provide more drying surface. When I’m putting dried tomatoes away in glass jars I might find some pieces that haven’t dried completely. These go into a jar with olive oil that is stored in the fridge. I think of them as “flavor bites” and add them to scramble eggs, quiche, or whatever else I think they’ll add a little burst of flavor to.
Parsley and celery do great in the dryers, but not basil. Basil never did well in my electric dehydrator either. I hang basil, lemon balm, spearmint, sage, and other herbs in my kitchen to dry. No appliance necessary. Zucchini is pretty easy to dry and you can season the slices with herbs before you put them in the dryer.
Once you begin to dry food, rather than can or freeze it, new adventures in eating open up. Although I had an electric dehydrator for years, I never used it like I’ve used these solar dryers. When they are setting out there and the sun is shining, I feel compelled to fill them up. Learn more about my solar drying experiences at Homeplace Earth. Come and see me at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia on September 14-15 and at the Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs in Pennsylvania on September 21-23. I’ll be speaking about Solar Food Drying at both events. See you there!
Photos by Cindy Conner.