Knock them dried!
Drying as a method of preserving surpluses and more
Have you ever regretted a juicy apricot cut into slices to flavor your favorite yogurt during the winter season? Of course, we can make delicious preserves or tasty jams to keep for the colder months, but almost all these preparations alter the nutritional qualities of food or necessarily transform them.
Who owns a small vegetable garden often finds himself facing the problem of waste in the case of a particularly profitable crop or after a walk in the forest to collect wild mushrooms and herbs. You take advantage of the fresh vegetables as long as you can, then you work hard for the tomato sauce, the pickles and jams; in some cases it is boiled and frozen or preserved in salt, but not all products can undergo these processes and preserve for a long time. The procedures for storing food for the pantry are often long, complex and not without risks to health if you do not comply with some basic rules of hygiene and cleanliness, so dealing with them requires time and effort that is not always available in the long and busy summer days.
Questioning about the various conservation methods, I came across the drying process.
Drying is a preservation technique that allows keeping food for a long time without excessively altering its organoleptic properties, eliminating the water contained in them up to a percentage of 80/90% and thus reducing the possibility of development of bacteria and microbes. The dried foods maintain aroma, taste and fragrance almost unaltered (the only drawback is a minimal loss of vitamin C) and significantly reduce their volume allowing a practical storage without the need for additional ingredients.
Technically, the process of eliminating homemade water with artificial means is called dehydration, while that performed outdoors under the sun’s rays in a natural way can be defined as drying. For example, I use a small, light and practical household dehydrator, made up of a series of perforated baskets and a fan that emits hot air from above; I have renounced natural drying because the climate in my region does not allow it, but in some areas with warm and parched climate it is possible to dry some herbs and vegetables directly outdoors on prepared tables or gratings.
For me, the discovery of this method was a real revolution, not only for the conservation of the products of my garden, but also for drying and keeping vegetables purchased in large quantities at the time of the best available quality or for an economic advantage.
During the summer when the garden and vegetable production is at its peak and the essential oils reach their maximum concentration, every day I collect and dry a part of my aromatic herbs to be conserved for the winter: oregano, mint, hyssop, sage … in a few hours they are ready to be minced and stored in convenient recycled glass containers. I also use the dryer for flower buds and flower heads, to be transformed into ingredients for home-made cosmetics such as calendula and hypericum or for invigorating herbal teas in the case of mauve or lavender. Thanks to the drying process, I can put aside my peppers to make an aromatic oil or a spicy powder. If you dry mixed vegetables or scraps of broth preparation, you can pulverize with a part of salt to create a granular organic bouillon cube without waste.
And how can we forget about the plums to combine with homemade granola? Or apples cut into slices and used as a healthy snack?
With the dehydrator you can really do everything, not just store food! Thanks to its low but constant temperature it can be used in the raw food kitchen for the preparation of complete dishes, or to activate the fermentation of some foods such as yogurt or even to keep ready-cooked dishes warm. Using the dehydrator you can prepare real recipes, like these or these.
Obviously drying times vary depending on the type of vegetable and the size of the slices inserted in the baskets. After some tests, you will find the right times for each product: starting from 5/8 hours for the herbs up to over 48 hours. These times should not scare you, because in most home dehydrators energy consumption is minimal and in the most advanced models there is still an Economy program to minimize consumption. In any case, you should never stop the drying process if it is not completed: the products would start to hydrate and would be exposed to mold risk within a few days (so calculate your time well, for example by activating the dryer during the night).
Buying a small dehydrator is not a demanding expense: the model I use has cost around € 30 and is perfect for family use, but there are more complex and performing models for large quantities of product.
Did I persuade you to try the dehydrator? Maybe next year in your pantry, next to the tomato puree and zucchini in oil, you will also see the fantastic dried peppers made by you!
Written by non-native speaker: please excuse any mistake.