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.