5 ways to use a food dehydrator

Fruits and Veggies

Whether your garden is drowning you in tomatoes or you just like to shop in bulk, dehydrating produce is a great way to preserve and process large amounts of fresh food. Dried goods are incredibly compact, can be stored at room temperature for long periods of time, and are easy to incorporate into every day cooking and baking. I dehydrate large quantities of tomatoes every year that find themselves adorning my soups and salads and occasionally function as a quick snack. Dried bell peppers are also remarkably tasty and sweet. Really small fruits like blueberries can be dehydrated whole. For medium-sized fruits like apricots and most tomatoes, cutting in half works well. For bell peppers, onions, apples, and the like, slice, or cut into smaller chunks.

Fruit (and sauce) leathers

My introduction to apple leather occurred in elementary school when my living arts class produced this tasty treat (probably my most favorite class ever). I figured the principle of dehydrating a sauce applies to both sweet and savory applications, so I played around with dehydrating tomato sauce using wax paper. While the tomato sauce turned out great, the wax paper proved disappointingly difficult to remove. After receiving some awesome reusable liners for Christmas last year, I went into full experiment mode. Besides converting apple sauce into apple leather, I have produced apricot leather, rhubarb leather, blackberry leather (remove the seeds, you’ll thank me later), and quince leather, all from garden or foraging sources. Homemade fruit leathers are addictive snacks and can be a healthy alternative to fruit roll-ups since the amount of added sugar (if any) is completely up to you. Place finished leathers on a piece of wax paper and roll up for convenient storage.

Herbs and spices

If you are into growing your own herbal tea or just want to preserve some of that rosemary for cooking after the frost, dehydrating speeds up the process (or makes it possible if you’re in an especially humid place) while working with lower temperatures than your average oven. Don’t over-dry, herbs are usually done in a very short time.

Jerky

Whether it’s deer, elk, or water fowl, if you hunt (or have generous friends or family that do), making jerky is a great dehydrating option. The same goes for those who find themselves with extra meat after “cowpooling.” We made our own duck jerky last year, which was amazing. To dehydrate meat, it is generally best to marinade evenly cut slices before dehydrating at the recommended temperature. We love the marinade recipe in the cookbook Duck, Duck, Goose but you can also find great marinade recipes for all kinds of meat freely available on the internet.

Backpacking meals

Besides dehydrated fruits and veggies and jerky, which make delicious and light weight backpacking foods on their own, you can also dehydrate complete meals. The method is similar to making fruit leathers. Spread out about 1/2 inch thick layer of the finished meal on a liner and dehydrate until crumbly and dry. Thick Soups and other meals with at most small chunks work the best. If you are making a pasta based dish, use small noodles such as orzo or elbow macaroni. For lots of ideas, check out the Backpacking Chef site.

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