Preserve your Food by Drying


What is Drying

Drying food is one of the oldest ways to preserve food. People in warm, dry climates can preserve their food by simply spacing their produce out and letting the air take the moisture out of the food. However for most us of that live in cooler, more humid climates a bit more assistance is needed. Drying food takes the water from the produce. This is an important step because micro-organisms need moisture to survive and to consume or spoil food. Properly dried fruits and vegetables will have 80-90 percent of their water removed. Since drying doesn’t violently heat food, it doesn’t destroy as many of the nutrients that canning or cooking can. Dried foods can be reconstituted by adding water or are often simply eaten dry. Common dried foods we eat are raisins, plums and beef jerky. Dehydration is used to make coffee, tea, packaged soups and most spices. There are many ways to dry foods such as dehydrating, sun drying, smoking, oven drying and air drying.

What Do I Need

To dehydrate food you will need to purchase a dehydrator. They have become inexpensive, easy to find and efficient in recent years. When buying a dehydrator remember to purchase one with sufficient capacity, trays that are lightweight and sturdy and that elaborate controls are not absolutely necessary. To smoke food you will need two thermometers and a commercial smoker. To oven dry food you will need an oven, cooking sheets and possibly cheese cloth, old window/picture frame and cotton sheeting if making your own drying trays. To air dry food you will need cotton thread and needles.

How Do I Dehydrate

The most important step for dehydrating is to ensure that the food is properly prepared (usually by blanching) and that the food is properly spaced. Leave at least 1/8 to 1/4 inch between each item to ensure proper drying. Do not stack food items. For best results, use fruits, vegetables, and meats that are of high quality. Ripe fruits are best but not too ripe or over-ripe. When cutting fruits and vegetables, try to cut uniform in size so that food will dry at a uniform rate. All dehydrators dry at different speeds so check your manual for drying times.

How Do I Smoke

Smoking meats is a great way to preserve food and add flavour. When handling meat always be careful to not spread food-borne illnesses. To prevent the possible tainting of food wash hands and surfaces often, keep different animals separate, cook to proper temperatures to kill germs, then refrigerate promptly after smoking is complete. Be sure to completely thaw out any meat before smoking, as smoking uses low temperatures it, can allow any unthawed meat to produce harmful bacteria. Marinades should be done in the refrigerator as meats at room temperature spoil quickly. Do not re-use marinade. You can make your own smoker but commercial smokers are safer when directions are followed. Generally, smokers comprise of a metal unit within which charcoal or wood chips are slowly burned to produce smoke. The smoke then heats the meat and infuses it with a smoky flavour. To safely smoke meat you should use two thermometers. One used to monitor the air temperature in the smoker where the temperature should stay between 225˚F and 300˚F. The second thermometer is used to determine the temperature of the meat, so be sure to use an oven safe thermometer. There are many factors that determine the time it takes to cook the meat including its shape, size and the distance the meat is from the source of the heat. It can take from 4 to 8 hours to properly smoke meat. In generally poultry breasts are done at 170˚F; whole poultry is done at 180˚F; veal, beef, lamb roasts are done at 145˚F to 170˚F; and pork is done at 160˚F to 170˚F. If applying a sauce, do so at the last half-hour of smoking. Refrigerate meat after smoking and for best results use smoked meat within 4 days or freeze for later use.

How Do I Oven Dry

An inexpensive way to preserve food is by simply using kitchen tools and appliances to oven dry. To do this, you place food on cooking sheets and then place in the oven at 120-145˚F for around 4-12 hours, depending on the food item. Cooking sheets can create uneven drying so for best results larger items can be dried right on the oven racks or on specialty prepared trays. Specialty prepared trays can be made by using old picture or window frames. Make sure you clean the frames before stretching the screen (don’t use galvanized screens as they can leave a strange flavour on the food) then put cotton sheeting or cheesecloth over them. The material can be secured with staples or tacs.

How Do I Air Dry

Air drying is very easy and works well for green beans and leafy spices such as dill or basil. To do this, hang your produce in a dry breezy place such as under the porch or in the garage rafters. String beans or mushrooms can be strung on cotton thread with a needle. Spices can be gathered in bunches and tied together at the stems. Very humid conditions will hinder the drying process and create mold and spoilage. Do not leave produce exposed to night air as morning dew will collect on it. Generally, air drying is complete in two or three days depending on the conditions. Leafy spices will by crackly and dry and green beans will be leathery and most other vegetables will be leathery or brittle. Air drying is not recommended for tomatoes, small vegetables or fruits.

Where Can I Learn More

There are numerous books and websites available to help you dehydrate your food including

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