Like so many others, in the spring of 2020, I made the abrupt shift to working from home. This shift provided an opportunity to replace commuting with gardening. I decided to expand our garden, put my green thumb to the test, and occupy my newly acquired free time. I experienced many failures, but also grew some plentiful produce.
Dehydrating your homegrown tomatoes is a great way to preserve your harvest. Photo by Adobe Stock/ Dar1930
At the end of gardening season, I was looking for an easy way to preserve my abundant harvest. My husband, Andrew, has a Weston 10-Tray Digital Dehydrator that he uses to make delicious jerky, so I decided to dehydrate several dozen cherry tomatoes. I washed the tomatoes, sliced them in half, and then tossed them in some olive oil, garlic, and fresh oregano. After arranging them on the dehydrator trays, I set the digital shut-off timer at 9 hours and the temperature at 135 degrees Fahrenheit, and the electric dehydrator did the rest. This process was easy, and we’ve enjoyed having dried tomatoes to use in omelets, pesto, and salads.
The Weston Dehydrator has shelf-type trays that slide in and out. A fan is mounted in the back that blows the air from the back toward the front in a horizontal direction. This provides more even drying, so the trays don’t need to be rotated. I found the slide-out trays to be handy when checking the dryness of the produce. We love the large size, because we can really load up all 10 trays and create big batches of shelf-stable food that we store in vacuum storage bags.
My husband is a big fan of jerky and has found several great recipes in Jerky: The Complete Guide to Making It by Mary T. Bell. I’m still experimenting with different foods and recipes, but we’ve already found many uses for our dehydrator. In addition to jerky and dried tomatoes, we’ve made tempeh, yogurt, and various dried fruits and vegetables, all without the additives and preservatives you find in factory-made products.
Dehydrating food is a great way to share some of your harvest with family and friends. For our adventurous daughter, I dehydrated a vegetable curry meal to eat on backpacking trips. As an added bonus, mailing dehydrated food is a much easier and cheaper way to share produce than shipping canned goods.
I learned that drying foods is simple, safe, and easy to grasp. Food dehydration saves money, because you can buy or grow seasonal produce to dry and store for year-round use. Another benefit of food dehydration is compact storage — especially important if you live in tight quarters with limited storage space.
How to Vacuum Seal
First, cool your food completely. Warm food causes sweating, which could provide enough moisture for mold to grow. Pack in amounts that can be used all at once. Each time a package is reopened, the food is exposed to air and moisture that can lower its quality and result in spoilage. A great option is to use vacuum bags with zippers. Once opened, the bags can be resealed. Dried foods should be stored in cool, dry, dark areas.
Teriyaki Jerky Recipe
Adobe Stock/Brent Hofacker
- 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper, coarsely ground
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
- 1 pound meat strips
- With the exception of the strips, mix all ingredients together. Allow the ingredients to rest at least 15 minutes for the flavors to blend. Taste and make personal adjustments.
- Add strips, and marinate at least 1 hour. For a longer marinating time, place in the refrigerator in a covered container or airtight plastic bag. Use a colander to drain the marinade.
- Spread strips in a single layer, and place in a drying environment so both sides receive the benefit of dry, heated air.
- If oil beads up during the drying process, pat it off with paper towels. The strips may need to be turned over during the drying process so both sides receive the benefit of dry, heated air.
- Always let jerky cool before determining whether it’s done. When dry, jerky should bend without breaking, like a green twig. Store dry jerky in airtight containers.
Laura Perkins grows, eats, and dries produce in Tecumseh, Kansas.