How to Dry Food: Reap the Garden and Market Bounty

Learn how to dry food. Drying foods harvested from your garden or the farmers market is one of the best ways to achieve year-round local eating. Learn the secrets of easy food drying, including how to dry which foods and time-saving tips. Also includes information about your electric and solar food dehydrator options.

| August/September 2008

Dry the harvest, learn how to dry food in order to stock up on homegrown snacks and convenience foods for year-round eating. Food drying is easy to learn and will help you save money on groceries while keeping your pantry stocked with delicious and nutritious organic food all year.

How to Dry Food

Many gardeners freeze, can or give away surplus zucchini and tomatoes, but what about drying them? Not only is drying a delicious way to preserve and concentrate the flavors of your fruits, veggies and herbs, but when dried, produce requires little space — and no electricity — to store, so you can enjoy it throughout fall and winter.

Last year I dried peppers, squash, garlic and quite a few cherry tomatoes, which brought much comfort when a power outage pushed my frozen treasures to the brink of thaw. The biggest revelation came in early spring, when I began using dried foods as other stockpiled veggies ran low. I discovered that cooking with delicious home-dried foods is as easy as cooking with packaged convenience foods, at a fraction of the cost. Sweet dried fruits and crunchy veggies are great in meals, but they’re good enough to enjoy as snacks, too.

What can you dry? From tomatoes and beets to sweet corn and green beans, almost any vegetable that can be blanched and frozen is a likely candidate for drying, along with apples, strawberries, peaches and most other fruits. In times past, people waited for a spell of dry, breezy weather to dry bunches of herbs or peppers threaded on a piece of string. And the first dehydrator I ever used was a parked car (just lay the goods on the dash or under the rear window). You will need only a warm oven to dry a basket of shiitake mushrooms, but unless you live in an arid climate where sun-drying is practical, eventually you’ll want a dehydrator. To compare plug-in options, read David Cavagnaro's Choosing a Food Dehydrator. Or read as Eben Fodor shares his expertise on building simple, non-electric food dryers in Build a Solar Food Dehydrator. (For an inexpensive DIY solar dehydrator, see Build a Low-Cost Solar Food Dehydrator. And for lots more on solar options, see the Solar Food Dehydrators landing page. — MOTHER)

But back to the food. Do you want the simplicity of scalloped potatoes from a box — but homegrown? Or how about the makings for dozens of pasta salads in which everything but the noodles came from your garden or a local farm? With a stash of dried foods, you really can drag through the door after work, set some dried veggies to soak, and then flop down for a few minutes, talk to the kids or change your clothes. By the time you’re back in the kitchen, you’ll be greeted by plump, pre-cut, organically grown veggies ready to be stir-fried, sautéed, simmered or tossed with dressing for a fast salad. Plus, drying foods to stockpile is one of the easiest ways to achieve a more local diet.

Back to the money. Organic convenience foods have their place in busy lives, but you pay for the time and energy involved in their creation. You subsidize the growing, drying, packaging, shipping and marketing, and it all adds up to some hefty retail prices. A dried organic vegetable soup kit costs $2 to $3, and a frozen entrée can push $5. The organic “skillet dinner” category runs somewhere in between, and it’s a great example of a situation where you could make your own for 50 cents using dried foods.

3/3/2009 9:36:48 AM

I was interested in reading your article on dehydrating food as I have dried food myself for years. The hands down easiest food to dry are bananas. Slice ripe bananas into rounds. If you have it, a wavy knife gives the chip more surface area so they dry faster. Dip the chips into lemon juice, then let them drain in a colander while you prepare more. Spread in one layer onto screen or dryer tray. Optional: dry in dehydrator until surface moisture disappears (a couple of hours) take out trays and loosen fruit in place so that they don't stick to the tray at the end. Put back into dryer and dry until chips are as leathery or crisp as you like (about eight to twelve hours, more for crisp). For different taste dip chips in orange juice instead of lemon juice. Store in jars or plastic bags. Chips that are not dried to a crisp stage (like store bought) should be put into the refrigerator or freezer for long term storage.

Heather Mack
10/27/2008 3:12:45 PM

I love the article and I'm excited to try drying. However, I'm a bit concerned about the environment where I live. Here, in New Orleans, our humidity is notorious and we don't have basements because the water levels are too high. (And forget the garage, unless I'm trying to steam the veggies instead of keep them dry!) One of the appeals of drying is that it would prevent the massive loss of food we experience when we empty out our freezers and refrigerators for hurricane evacuations. It nearly broke my heart to throw away hundreds of dollars of produce this past year. So, drying would seem to be the elegant solution, but given what I'm reading about storage requirements, I'm not sure I can meet them. Even if I kept the dried food in the kitchen pantry (instead of in a basement), for most of the year our house is at least 75 degrees (trying to be responsible with our thermostat and all). I'm also wondering if the produce would ever get genuinely dry in the first place, given that Tom Robbins has described our climate as "an obscene phone call from nature." So, I love the notion, but I'd like your opinion on whether it's likely work down here before I go investing. Thank you so much, Heather

Barbara Pleasant_3
8/29/2008 7:27:01 AM

I am wondering if you have any articles or suggestions for plans to build a food dryer, specifically one that would be used in our sustainable agriculture education work in Africa. Shannon W., Bristol, TN You may have trouble assembling all the materials you would need to build the solar dryer described in our recent article, but it's still worth looking over: As part of your information gathering, you may also want to look at the many solar cooking devices shown at Some might be adapted for drying. A very simple solar dryer that works well enough can be made from a couple of cardboard boxes. The important thing is to position the heat collecting box low, so that the warm air moves upward and over the food as the heated air rises. Here's a basic construction plan:

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