For urban and suburban folk, finding proper gardening space can seem like an insurmountable task. Margaret Park offers a welcome solution with More Food From Small Spaces (Great River Books, 2013), with tips to grow healthy, organic vegetables and fruits while maximizing garden space. Excerpted from “Making Food Last,” this selection prepares the reader for dehydrating vegetables and fruits at home.
You can purchase this book from the Capper’s Farmer store: More Food From Small Spaces
Food drying removes most of the moisture from foods while retaining much of the nutritional value and flavor. Fruits typically contain about 75 percent moisture when fresh, and should be dehydrated to a 20 percent moisture level, the point at which they become dried yet pliant. It is acceptable for fruits to be dried to this level rather than a lower moisture level because the natural sugars and acids in fruit act as an added preservative. Vegetables must be dehydrated to a moisture level around 5 percent, the point at which they become stiff and breakable.
Most of the work involved in dehydrating vegetables and fruit is done by the sun, or whatever electric powered drying device used. There is initial work in slicing the vegetables before drying and also in turning the pieces over to expose all surfaces to the source of warm air. The thickness of the slices will influence the time needed for drying. Less thick means faster drying. However, thinner slices will take up more surface area on the drying rack, so the whole process of drying a quantity of food may not be speedier in cutting thinner slices. Also thinner slices can be harder to handle and more easily broken when dried.
Foods to Dry Directly
Garlic halves (remove sprout in the middle first)
Swiss chard (stems removed)
Tomato slices or halves of small tomatoes
Vegetables to Blanch in Boiling Water for a Minute Before Drying
Brussels sprouts slices
Summer squash slices
Green beans should be blanched a minute and immersed in an ice bath before drying.
Beets should be fully cooked before drying.
Potatoes need to be soaked in a lemon juice and water solution before drying
Store dried vegetables in a clean, dry, airtight container, in a cool, dark location.
Shelf Life of Home Dried Foods
Home dried foods generally have a shelf life of six months to year, which is similar to home frozen foods. However, storage conditions have a greater impact on dried foods. Light, temperature and exposure to oxygen will all have their effect on the stored goods.
If you store your dried food at a room temperature of about seventy degrees, the food should last about a year. Store it at sixty degrees and the food can last two years. At eighty degrees, the food will last about six months. For every ten degrees lower temperature, you can double the shelf life of your dried foods. So if you have a basement, consider keeping your food storage containers in the coolness below ground level.
The lower light level in basements is also good for storage, since light can cause dried foods to discolor and eventually spoil. It’s also been demonstrated that light eventually breaks down fats and proteins as well as vitamins in the food.
The other factor limiting the shelf life of dried foods is oxygen. The presence of oxygen in the food container will eventually cause the foods to break down resulting in off flavors and eventual spoilage. The more airtight the container, the longer your home dried food will last.
I usually keep foods I dry in plastic bags in the refrigerator. I’ve been able to eat sun dried tomatoes a year later when stored in the cold dark of the refrigerator shelves.
Reprinted with permission from More Food From Small Spaces: Growing Denser, Deeper, Higher, Longer Gardens by Margaret Park and published by Great River Books, 2013. Buy this book from our store: More Food From Small Spaces.