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My Best Friend Is a Dehydrator

I told Santa that I would like to have an Excalibur Dehydrator for Christmas. Or my birthday, I could wait until the 12th day of Christmas for it.  It's the Rolls Royce of food dehydrators.  I know people who have one and I am jealous as all get out.

You know that I am a canning fool. Right now I have enough food canned to ward off the Zombie Apocalypse. What I don't have is more shelf space. I am full up. Well...I say that., but you can always find more room around your house if you really look. If I recall, that is exactly how I have almost lost my spare bedroom. I filled up the kitchen cabinets. I filled up the shelves that I bought and the ones that we built that are in the walk-in closet of the office. And then, because we really don't have that much company, I thought "Why can't I use some of that wasted space?"  And then I was off and running.

Before I knew what had happened, there was a new shelving unit in the spare room closet — it's also a walk-in closet. There were heavy cardboard sheets that slid under the bed in there for storing butternut squash. There were 3 wooden boxes along the wall that contained about 50 to 60 pounds each of white potatoes, red potatoes and sweet potatoes. And since we don't have a basement or root cellar, why not bring our water storage system in here as well? Understand that our "system" is not really a system at all, but instead a collection of about 35 to 40 heavy duty white vinegar jugs that are filled with the spring water we drink from a local spring. When we first moved here, all we had was a cistern that we had to fill all the time. The good news is that we became water conservation geniuses. The bad news was that you couldn't drink out of it. They've since brought city water out here on our country road, but we don't drink it either, with all the chlorine and fluoride in the water. It doesn't taste good. Weekly we round up the empty jugs, rotate what's left, and drive out to fill the jugs. But...I digress...

Back in the early 70s, when my son was little, I started dehydrating fruits from around our place to fruit leathers and snacks. And I dried the herbs from my garden. That was about the extent of my experience then. It was enough. Back in those days, I dried stuff out in the sun on scrubbed clean old window screens. Primitive, huh? Sometime in the 80s I bought my first dehydrator, a little brown plastic thing with trays in it and a heating element in the bottom. I think it cost about $10.  It took forever to dry things, but was still a little faster than doping it out in the sun.

Fast forward a few years. I picked up a couple of dehydrators at a garage sale for about $5. I gave one to my son. One had a fan in it and, buddy, it worked like a charm! I played around and dried odds and ends of stuff, and kept stretching and drying more things and different things and was having a ball. Then for Christmas one year, my husband bought me a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator. It too has a fan. And settings! You can set the temperature for anywhere from 95 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. It does a good job, and I have purchased extra trays and silicone liners for the trays, to use when drying some of the messier stuff.

I dehydrate everything from apples that aren't getting eaten quickly enough to chicken jerky to pumpkin puree. I dry herbs — I just finished about 6 pounds of spearmint last week. I dry tomatoes — especially the sweet little meaty Roma tomatoes that I love so much. They are like candy when dried. After drying I can also pulverize them for vegetable bouillon. I dry all manner of fruit — stuff from my own yard (apples, peaches, cherries, strawberries) to fruits that I find great buys on (mangoes at $0.29/each  or bananas for $0.39/lb. I dry corn off the cob to throw in soups. I dry kale, Swiss Chard and wild mushrooms. I dry onions when the garden has blessed us or I find them on a great sale. And it requires so much less storage space that it's mind boggling. Last week I had 2 water bath canner pots full of pumpkin chunks, from my latest insane adventure with pumpkins. I peeled them after steaming them, and mooshed them up and spread out on the silicone liners in the dehydrator. When it was all dry as a bone, I put the pieces in my Vitamix and pulverized them. Voila! Pumpkin powder. And it all fit in a 1-quart jar. Measure it out, add water and stir.  In a few minutes — pumpkin puree.

The more important it becomes to me to be less dependent on the power grid, the more I appreciate the stability and  usefulness of dehydrating.  I lost a freezer last year from a malfunction and lost a fair amount of food.  Most of it was bell peppers and other vegetables that I had spent a whole summer growing, tending and getting into the freezer. But for me, losing any of the stuff I worked so hard for was way too much, no matter what it was.  A little manual labor cutting up vegetables is all it takes to preserve some of your produce for a long long time. I sometimes use my foodsaver, but more often I just put the dehydrated goods into quart sized ziplock bags and then store them in appropriate containers.   I use 1 gallon jars and 5 gallon food grade buckets.  I was gifted a LOT of rainbow chard last year just before the first hard frost, and I mean a LOT, like 5 or 6 big grocery bags full.  I dried every bit of it.  I use it  to sprinkle into soups, rice dishes, scrambled eggs, smoothies--you name it. Same with the kale that I grow. Same with the dandelion roots and leaves and flowers. Same for the yarrow.  Mints for teas and other concoctions.  Fruits for snacks, granola bars, granola and desserts.   Herbs that I use for spices...rosemary, basil, oregano, sage, lemongrass.

So when I tell you that my best friend is a dehydrator, I'm not kidding. But I think he needs a high class friend, so I'm still asking Santa for that Excalibur.  It's a little costly for most of us, but I look at it like a really good investment when you dehydrate as much as I do.  We'll see...but maybe I haven't been a good enough girl this year. Even if I have to wait another year, I still have my old sidekick Nesco and his cheaper version with the heating element in the bottom.  It takes a little longer, but still does the job. You can start wherever you are. You can get the $20 one, you can build a solar dehydrator, or you can ask Santa for one. Jump in!

Happy Dehydrating!

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