Dehydrating your own Fruit etc.

makin_pennies_screamMarch 12, 2009

I would like to know if people dry their own fruit or just can it? I have a food dehydrater, and I see them all the time really cheap at thrift stores and garage sales. It seems to me it takes along time to dehydrate the fruit, and electricity is not cheap. But in comparision, canning jars, sugar, lids, pectin, etc. to can all that fruit seems expensive start up as well.

So I ask, which is cheaper? I don't like canning cuz of all the sugar and the sugar free stuff just doesn't seem to work out as well for me.

Another question I have is about storing nuts. What is the best way? I used to have this huge 300lb holding deep freeze, I would double bag the walnuts in ziplock and throw them in there, but now I have a very small upright freezer with no money to a deep freeze and wonder if walnuts store well on the shelves.


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I don't know if dehydrating is cheaper. I began dehydrating peaches and apples in the sun about 20 years ago just to see if I could do it. Back then we had summers with high temps in the 100's. My brothers loved the fruit so well that we hardly ever got to the finished product. Then we had a wet summer so my dad bought a dehydrator. We love the food so much we have a hard time building up extra. It is time consuming so I only do it a few times a year.

As far as cracked nuts go, we've always just stored them in ziplocks in the freezer. I've never had them go bad in there. I've also stored pecans in the shell and they were good too. I don't use a lot of black walnuts, but we crack them first and then freeze them.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 5:46PM
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-I no longer do home canning because I don't consider it cost effective for ME - bottom line. You have to run the numbers for yourself.

If you don't have the equipment already, you will be hard pressed to save money, but will still have lots of food to enjoy as a trade-off. Most folks do home canning because they love to do it and enjoy the fruits of their labor, not necessarily because it saves them money. Most people never crunch the numbers, but assume it's cheaper.

Home canning is a lot of work. Produce waits for no one and you must can fresh produce to get the highest amount of nutrition possible. If you can old produce, or inferior quality produce, you are canning empty calories.

When I taught home canning classes I gave out a hand-out so people could do a cost analysis. If you contact your local Cooperative Extension Service (County Extension), you should be able to get more information on cost analysis.

It's hard to do a complete 100% cost analysis because of attrition in home canned goods - spoilage, breakage during canning or after, actual numbers for the cost of produce, etc.

Most people only take into consideration the cost of utilities to heat process canned goods, but neglect to figure how much it costs to run the air conditioner to cool off the hot house. How much does water cost for a garden and all the other things purchased to grow the produce? And only you can put a price on your time and energy. We also consume very few canned goods (commercial or home made) anymore.

- I do a lot of dehydrating and dehydro-freezing. It's a great way to "save" that forgotten produce in your refrigerator. I got a bunch of mushrooms on sale recently. I used as many as I needed and sliced and dehydrated the rest. You can figure your electric use with a Kill A Watt Power Meter. Or do a rough figure - my NESCO American Harvest dehydrator uses 500 watts and can expand to 10-square feet of drying space. I can approximate the time it takes to dehydrate something (apple slices take about 12-hours), get the currant electric rates from the electric company and figure those numbers.

I personally think a FoodSaver vacuum sealer and a dehydrator go hand-in-glove. Oxygen-free storage is a huge PLUS for food storage of any kind, but especially dehydrated food. Not all dehydrated foods have a long shelf-life, but you can extend it by vacuum-sealing foods. When you dehydro-freeze, you only partially dehydrate the food. This food MUST be stored in the freezer to avoid bacterial growth, but it will have a better flavor, will reconstitute in less time, and it takes up less space in the freeze when partially dehydrated than fresh.

I get most of the fruit I dehydrate free for the picking. You can put an incredible amount of dried tomatoes in ONE quart jar. I dehydrate that glutt of zucchini out of the garden and we use zucchini slices instead of potato chips. I dehydrate cooked and mashed sweet potatoes on the fruit roll-up sheets. When it's crispy, I can run it through the blender and make sweet potato powder. It only takes the addition of hot water to reconstitute it into mashed sweet potatoes.

Use and consumption of dehydrated foods isn't for everyone. Once again, you may require some equipment beyond the dehydrator. A mandoline cutter is a MUST, in my opinion, for cutting slices of food the same thickness so they dry in approximately the same amount of time. I'd suggest the book, "Making & Using Dried Foods" by Phyllis Hobson. Not only how-to, but recipes for using it.

-Storing nuts: I thought I used a lot of nuts (LOL)! I vacuum seal the nuts I keep in storage, either using FoodSaver bags or placing nuts in canning jars and using the jar attachment and vacuum-sealing a canning lid on a canning jar. The things that destroy food are air, heat, light. If you can keep them in an oxygen-free container, in the dark, and in a cool storage place, you will find they keep fairly well. I do this with pecans and almonds, but walnuts aren't a favorite keeper for me. Walnuts contain a large amount of triple unsaturated linolenic acid and are more susceptible to rancidity and really need to be stored in a refrigerator or freezer. Almonds, pecans, cashews, macadamia nuts and peanuts have a high content of stable oleic acid and don't go rancid easily. Especially once I've prepared them by soaking and dehydrating.


    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 6:16PM
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Grainlady, you bring up some great points on canning. In my case, it is not all about money, but quality... and shopping within my county as much as I can. And it's tradition- a great way to reach back in time to my great grandmother. Sometimes it isn't cheaper to grow my own carrots, but it's fun, and I get to do it with the kids, and there are more reasons... I'm terrible at being frugal! But it's like you said in a previous post, it's all about degrees...
...I will be looking forward to more replies to this subject on dehydrating!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 11:03AM
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Interesting post! I just bought an Excalibur dehydrator, and got it Friday. I haven't tried it out yet, though. We're putting in a big garden this year, so I hope we'll get a lot of use from it.

Grainlady, thanks for the reminder of a mandolin; do you have any recomendations?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 12:35PM
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maddie in ky -

Any mandoline that will do a simple cut will work - it doesn't have to be fancy or have a lot of cutting heads, unless you plan to make fancy waffle cuts, etc.... Best if you can adjust the thickness of the slices.

You may want to purchase some cutters gloves as a safety precaution if you tenn to forget to use the "pusher". Mandolines can be a bit dangerous if you're not careful.

I have a Matfer Professional Mandoline I got on a discount table after Christmas at a Kitchen Supply Store (dirt cheap - lucky me), but I've heard good things from folks who own Pampered Chef and OXO.

I would suggest one that is wide enough to do apples, especially if you like to cut them from the top of the apple down (whole apple) and get a "star" in the middle of the whole-apple slices. Kids get a kick out of those slices.

I also use an apple corer/wedge slicer. I wash apples, divide them into wedges and remove the core all in one move. I use a paring knife to cut the wedges into thin slices. So that little tool is also a time and energy saver.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 2:17PM
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I personally can more than I dry.....for me it is cheaper. I already have the jars (which were a l time expense and have reused them for over 30 years). The canner was a freebie from a relative, who said it was wearing out....also over 30 years old now. Mine is an old blue cold water variety but I just received a lovely pressure cooker canner from a girlfriend who was cleaning out her basement. Her DH had bought it and used it once or twice ....lucky me. I do have to buy new lids when I can but because I have found a syrup/low sugar my family likes, then my cost is less. I only use the stove for about a half hour - 20/25 mins. for processing. No for me canning things is cheaper. Just MHO.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 2:51PM
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Once I got a dehydrator I quit canning except jams and jellies. And once I started eating dried apple chips I pretty much quit eating regular apples. I dry a big bag of apples almost every weekend and eat them all week as a snack (I share them also - reluctantly). I peel and slice them really thin and drop them in a bowl of water with the juice of one lemon and a couple packets of Stevia powder. I dry them overnight and store them in zip lock freezer bags. If I didn't eat them all the time I would probably put one bag in the freezer but they usually disappear pretty quick.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 1:51PM
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I can as much as I am able. I also dehydrate fruit. I find that my grandkids eat up most of the dried fruit as soon as it comes out of the dryer. If I want long term storage, I have to can or freeze it. Right now, I am concerned about what is in the food in the supermarkets and I am trying to grow as much as possible or buy at the small farm stands in our area. With the cost of food going up so much, I feel we need to plan for the future and have some extra food put away.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 5:12PM
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I want to dehydrate also. But I would like small containers for storage. I would prefer not to put in the freezer. Can someone recommend what type of storage would be good? I had thought about those vacuum sealers. Can you reseal once the bag is opened? What about jars? I don't want to process them or get into "real" canning.

I would rather have to open 3 of something if company comes, than to have one of something go bad because it was left unsealed.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 12:36PM
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calirose -

-I like to use canning jars for nearly all of my dehydrated food I store at room temperature. Oxygen-free (vacuum-sealed) is the best way to store these types of foods. Second best is in an air-tight container.

-Not everything will store properly in a vacuum-sealed FoodSaver bag because the food is too compacted when the air is sucked out of the bag. You can't even store chocolate chips in a vacuum-sealed bag very well because they will fuse together and you'll have lumps, not chips. Same with dried fruit. A certain percentage of moisture remains in most dehydrated food and it's usually too moist for storage in the bags.

Think about what would happen if you were to take a handful of prunes or dried apricots and squeeze them as tightly in your hand as possible. That's what happens in FoodSaver bags.

Then there are foods that are dried until they are crispy dry. If you vacuum-seal crisp things in a bag, you'll end up with "dust" - once again compact storage isn't appropriate. Put some potato chips in a plastic bag and then roll a rolling pin over it. That's about what happens when you put crispy foods in a FoodSaver bag and vacuum seal it shut.

I dehydrate zucchini slices until they are crispy dry and we use those instead of potato chips. So if I were to vacuum-seal them in a bag, there would be nothing but dust and bits of zucchini. I store them in canning jars that have been vacuum-sealed with a canning lid on the jar.

-When you use a FoodSaver and the jar attachment for canning jars, the food will remain free-flowing within the jars, whether it's moist or crispy dry - but all the oxygen will be removed from the jar. So moist things don't end up a compact lump, and crispy things will remain whole AND all the air will be removed from the storage jar for longer storage.

-For the jars of dehydrated food I keep in storage, I use a canning lid on them. Once the jars are moved out of storage and into the pantry, I replace the canning lid with a Universal Lid - designed to be used with a FoodSaver. Now you can easily open and reseal the jar, just like using the FoodSaver canisters. The Universal Lid will work on a wide variety of containers, it comes in two sizes (4" and 5") and is cheaper than buying FoodSaver Canisters. The container that you use a Universal Lid for doesn't have to fit the lid perfectly. It will vacuum onto any smooth rim.

-You need to be careful storing dehydrated foods. If you don't dehydrate them properly, they will mold. You need to check them perodically for mold and if you find mold, throw all the food in that package/jar/container away. Don't take out a few bits that are moldy. Unseen mold spores will remain throughout the entire container of food, so trash all of it.

Potato slices are nortorious for molding, so I store them in small amounts (pint jars). By doing so, I only expose a small amount of dehydrated potatoes to mold.

-When you open a jar/canister, don't leave the food sit with the lid off for a prolonged period of time. Dehydrated foods quickly rehydrate from moisture in the air and it can be enough to cause mold to grow on the food.

-Not all dehydrated foods have a long shelf-life, so don't expect all foods to last "forever", but if they are vacuum-sealed, they will last longer. Dehydrated foods need to be stored in an air-tight container and in a cool and dark storage area.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 5:05PM
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Thank you Grainlady, you are also a grand lady!

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer questions in such detail. I never would have thought about those vacuum sealers squishing the contents of the bags! I will check out the Food Saver and vacuum lids. Pint jars would be just the size I need.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2009 at 8:09PM
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The energy used by dehydrator is strongly dependent upon the manufacturers design. Some are terribly inefficient. The one I have stacks so if I have a small amount of vegetables that I want to save for soup, I can do just one tray. Some fruits and vegetables do take a long time to dry, check the instruction booklets. Some are worth the time. I dry my own cherries as I want no sugar in them and the commercial dried cherries are little more than candy. Before drying anything, are you sure you will use it after it's dried. Food stored in pantries (dried zucchini for example) really are a waste.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 8:50PM
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puzzlefan -

Zucchini don't go to waste at our home - especially since they are so plentiful from the garden. We use dehydrated zucchini slices instead of potato chips. You can "doctor" them up with flavors if you like. Marinate them in soy sauce and garlic powder, sprinkle of hickory smoke salt, etc... You need to choose small zucchini with immature seeds in them for "chips".

The larger zucchini, I split and remove the seeds then shred them. Dehydrated shredded zucchini is rehydrated to use for adding to zucchini bread. I also add it to soup/stew.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 7:49AM
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