I’ve neglected Food Dryer Home because I was writing a book about preserving food! It includes a detailed chapter about dehydrating produce with many step-by-step sequences and photos. Click here to buy your copy from Amazon.com.
It’s no secret that I’ve neglected my blog about dehydrating food. This is, in part, because I was writing a book.
Canning, Freezing, Drying, Fermenting, Sugaring, & Cold Storage
My book, Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too, from Cool Springs Press, came out in March. It started as an idea for a book about canning produce, but evolved quickly into a survey of most home food-preserving methods.
I wanted Yes, You Can to feel as though you had asked me about preserving produce, and then indulged me by joining me in my kitchen to do a whole bunch of projects. Sure: there’s a linear narrative… we need to preserve some produce, after all. But along the way, there are dozens of digressions: tips, history, stories from my kitchen, and other tidbits to ease the learning process.
Yes, You Can! isn’t one of those dry, gray, “here’s how it’s done” books. It’s loaded with photos that illustrate step-by-step how to complete preserving projects and how to use the foods you’ve preserved. The chapter about dehydrating foods includes instructions for prepping produce, blanching vegetables, and drying vegetables and fruits. It suggests some great snacks to prepare in your dehydrator, and shows how to refill your spice jars from your own herb garden. It even explains how to prepare one of my favorite breakfasts starting with dehydrated shredded potatoes.
I hope you’ll click through to Amazon and see what others have said about my book. I had a great time creating it, and I think you’ll enjoy reading it and working from it.
If you want to preserve chili peppers, I encourage you to use your food dryer (if you have one) to dry cut-up sections of larger peppers, or to dry whole fruits of the smaller pepper varieties.
Of course, there are other ways to preserve peppers… here are some thoughts:
Things to Consider about Preserving Chili Peppers
Chilies are among a large selection of foods that you can preserve in many ways. Freezing, drying, canning, pickling, and fermenting are all effective for extending the storability of this fine garden produce.
Store Chilies in your Freezer
Chilies will keep in your freezer for at least a year. The down side of freezing is that it breaks down the cells of the chilies so the vegetables become soggy or mushy when they thaw. When you do freeze chilies, plan to use them for cooking.
Prepare chilies for freezing by dicing them as you might to include in soups, sauces, and stir fry. Then, blanch them by submerging them 3 minutes in boiling water followed by 3 minutes in ice water. Spread the diced peppers one layer deep on baking pans and freeze them overnight. Then transfer the peppers to freezer bags. You’ll be able to take measured amounts of frozen diced peppers from the bags as you need them in your cooking.
Thoughts about Canning Chilies
Canning is a valid way to preserve chili peppers, but the method alters the peppers much as freezing does: canning involves cooking, so canned chili peppers tend to be soft and best to use in cooked foods.
BEWARE! Chilies are low in acid. It’s not safe to can them in a boiling water bath. Rather, to make them safe for long-term storage, you must use a pressure canner. You’ll find useful information about pressure canning vegetables in the article, Pressure Canning from your Home Kitchen Garden.
If you’re not ready to try pressure canning, but you have a lot of chili peppers to manage, consider quick-pickling. Quick-pickling is the process of packing low-acid foods in vinegar and salt brine—and often sugar as well. The brine prevents microbes from growing, and lets you safely seal chilies in canning jars using a boiling water bath canner. My favorite recipe for quick pickling peppers involves making red pepper relish.
Chilies in a Food Drier
Drying chili peppers seems as though it should be a simple task: set them in a warm, dry place and they’ll dehydrate. It’s best practice to blanch chilies before you dehydrate them. So, follow the procedure for blanching that I explained in the freezing section (above).
Spread the blanched chili pieces one layer deep on your food dryer’s trays. It’s OK if the pieces touch, but don’t let them overlap. Set the food dryer’s temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit if your dehydrator has a temperature control knob. Let the peppers dry for five hours and check them to see whether they’re dry. To test, remove a piece from the food dryer, let it cool for a minute or two, and bend it until it breaks; it should snap clean like a dry twig. If this doesn’t happen, continue drying the peppers and check them every hour or two until they’re brittle.
When the peppers are dry, turn off the food dryer and let it cool to room temperature. At that point, package the chili peppers in an air-tight container. For longest-term storage, vacuum seal them. To use dried chilies in your cooking, simply add them to wet dishes such as soups and sauces and give them ample time to cook. For drier dishes such as stir-fry, float the dried chilies in boiling hot water and let them cool for ten minutes before adding them to the skillet.
I can’t help but recommend my book, Yes You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too for instruction in all types of food preservation. The book provides detailed, step-by-step instructions with full-color photos from my kitchen showing how I preserve vegetables and fruits.
Use a food dryer, or your freezer to preserve herbs. Whether you grow them in your garden, raise them in containers, or buy them fresh from the grocery store, your herbs will never go to waste if you dry them or freeze them for later use
An overgrown basil planter can provide ample clippings. If you don’t use all of them in-season, try dehydrating the extra in a food dryer.
Harvest herbs to preserve as you’d harvest them to use fresh in cooking. Various authorities differ on the “best” way to harvest—harvest before the plants flower, harvest while they’re flowering… I say, harvest to keep the plants from getting out of control.
More importantly: experiment. You might prefer mature herbs while someone else prefers younger ones. What’s more, it’s not reasonable to generalize for all herbs. Once sage blossoms, for example, its flavor changes distinctively. I haven’t noticed such a change in basil.
Generally, you should harvest stems with leaves attached. Depending on how out-of-control the plants are when you harvest, you may cut off whole branches, or you might cut branches back to where two or three sets of leaves remain. Many herb plants will send out new branches below a cut as long as there are leaves on the remaining sections; basil is a classic example. Other herbs, such as cilantro, have such a short lifespan that you might prefer to harvest much of the plant for its leaves and grow other plants if you want to harvest seeds. (I harvest only the broadest cilantro leaves and leave the remainder of each plant to go to seed.)
Rinse the herbs gently to remove soil and insects. Then remove as much water as you can from the herbs. I gather the edges of a clean dish towel to form a sack with the herbs inside and shake it gently for a minute or two.
Lay branches of herbs on the trays of your food dryer. It’s OK if the branches criss-cross on the trays; air will circulate around them adequately. Don’t, however, compress the herbs by pressing them down.
If your food dryer has a temperature control knob, set it at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The herbs may dry in as little as two or three hours, but don’t remove them from the dehydrator until the stems are brittle and snap when you bend them.
Supposedly, herbs will retain top flavor longest if you leave the leaves attached to the stems. I find this terribly inconvenient. Rather, I put the herbs in a blender—if the stems are particularly woody, I pluck and preserve only the dried leaves and discard the stems. If you’ve dried your herbs adequately, you don’t need a blender. Put them in a plastic bag and crumple it in your palm repeatedly.
I try to refill my spice jars during the growing season, and I also store ground dried herbs in zippered plastic bags. Ideally, store herbs in a cabinet or other location where they’ll receive limited or no light, and where the humidity remains low.
Drying is undoubtedly the oldest food preservation method in use today. Consider that nature preserves fruits, vegetables, and grasses by drying. If you bother to watch, you can spot birds eating dried berries and deer foraging for dried grasses in the dead of winter.
There are advantages to dehydrating vegetables over other preservation methods. For example, dehydrated vegetables tend to shrink—some to one-fifth their original sizes. As well, vegetables lose weight as they dry so they’re easy to pack and store. Finally, dried vegetables can retain their nutritional value for twenty years or longer if you vacuum seal them and store them out of the light.
Prepare Veggies for the Food Dryer
Use produce that is dead ripe and fresh from the garden. Vegetables can lose 50% of some nutrients in the first 24 hours after harvest.
Blanching for your Food Dryer
Begin by filling a large stockpot with water and bringing it to a hard boil. Prepare a similarly large container (another stockpot or a washbasin) by filling it with cold water and floating ice in it.
Work in small batches—perhaps a quart of cut-up vegetables at a time—and plunge the vegetables into the boiling water. I like to put the veggies in a strainer and lower the strainer into the water so the veggies cook but can’t escape the strainer.
Cook the vegetables for half the time you would if your were about to serve them. For many vegetables, you’ll blanch for about three minutes, but it’s best to follow USDA guidelines you’ll find here: USDA Blanching Guidelines. Note that the USDA recommends you should fully-cook beets, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and winter squash rather than partially-cooking them as you do other vegetables.
Wash, pare, and cut up vegetables into the shapes that you’ll want them to have when you prepare them for a meal. Then blanch them.
Blanch? Blanching is the process of heating a vegetable to destroy enzymes. Those enzymes naturally break down the food, and they’ll continue to work even after you dry the food. Proper blanching significantly increases the storage life of the dried produce. The box titled, Blanching for your Food Dryer summarizes the procedure.
Dry the blanched vegetables. I wrap mine in a clean dish towel and gently shake it around to remove as much residual water as possible.
Dehydrate your Vegetables
Load your dehydrator’s trays only one layer deep with the prepared vegetable pieces. It’s OK if the veggies touch their neighbors, but don’t let them overlap.
If your food dryer has a temperature control knob, set it to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Dehydrate the vegetables until they are completely dry. Stems and leaves should be brittle and break cleanly while chunks (cut up carrots, potatoes, and other root vegetables) should be hard like blocks of wood.
It will take at least four hours to dry vegetables, but in most cases you’ll wait 8, 12, or more hours. When the vegetables are dry, turn off the food dryer and let them cool to room temperature before you package them. Use airtight containers. Better still, vacuum pack the vegetables. Then, store them away from light at room temperature.