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When our first garden took on a life of its own as it grew beyond just a few tomato and cucumber plants, it quickly became apparent that I needed to learn how to preserve food in a manner that didn't require freezer space. One of my closest friends taught me how to use a water bath canner to make pickles and - because one can only eat so many pickles - convinced me to give dehydrating a try.
I wasn't sure if we would actually use dehydrated food, so I was hesitant to invest in a quality dehydrator at first. The friend who introduced me to dehydrating had an Excalibur dehydrator that she loved, and that I saw others raving about online when I started doing research on dehydrators and dehydrating. Ultimately, I ended up getting an Excalibur as well, but I didn't purchase one right away.
Getting Started Dehydrating Food
I bought my first dehydrator from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I happened to be browsing my local store shortly after deciding to try dehydrating and came across a Mr. Coffee brand 6-tray dehydrator for $8. I snapped it up and am so glad I did. I immediately started dehydrating herbs from the garden, along with green beans to use in soup throughout the year, and apple slices - which quickly became a favorite snack.
Stepping Up to Bigger and Better
Before long, the little $8 dehydrator of unknown origin was running nearly non-stop. It didn't take long for me to see the advantage of having a dehydrator with a fan in the back rather than on the bottom.
When the fan is on the bottom, you have to rotate the trays because the ones on the bottom dry faster than the ones above. It's not hard to do, but (a) you have to actually remember to do it and (b) it takes time that could be spent doing something else.
When the fan is on the bottom, it's challenging to dehydrate more than one type of food a time, because the flavors can affect each other. Nobody likes apples that taste like basil. That is a truly nasty combination. I learned that the hard way.
That knowledge that led me to purchase a 9-tray Excalibur dehydrator. I love it - it is running in the background as I write this blog post. The Mr. Coffee version is still going strong as well. In the peak of summer, it's not unusual for both units to be going at the same time. I'm actually thinking about investing in a third unit. We refer to the Excalibur as the "big dehydrator" and the Mr. Coffee unit as the "little dehydrator."
Building a Pantry of Dehydrated Food
It didn't take me long to go from someone who didn't know if she'd ever use a dehydrator to someone who can't imagine not having at least one, regularly uses two at the same time, and wants a third. Dehydrating helps make the most of the produce that we grow and keeps us from having to purchase many types of canned or frozen vegetables.
I'm constantly trying new items, but there are a few staples I dehydrate from the garden each year.
Cherry tomatoes (cut in half)
Peppers (cayenne, jalapeno, bell, sweet, etc.)
Onions (caramelized onions and slices for powder)
Zucchini (shredded and slices)
We don't have many fruit trees, so we also dehydrate quite a bit of purchased fruit. Other than apples, bananas are our favorites. A lot of people dehydrate fruit leather, but that's not something I have tried.
Build Your Pantry With a Dehydrator
Dehydrating is a great way to build a pantry filled with shelf-stable staples.
It's great to have several jars full of veggies to shake into soups or stews rather than having to keep frozen veg in the freezer.
Dehydrated caramelized onions are delicious on green bean casseroles or in meat stocks; having them on hand makes it unnecessary to buy French fried onions or packaged onion soup mix.
Are you ready to try dehydrating? Whether you purchase a smaller dehydrator or go all in with an Excalibur model (or both, like I did), you're sure to be glad that you did. Along with other food preservation and cooking content, I'll also be publishing ideas on how to best use dehydrated foods in your kitchen. Be sure to subscribe for updates!