Tuesday, August 03, 2010

DIY Recycled food dehydrator

Ok, first things first, humans have been using the sunshine to preserve foods for, well forever really.  Some of our modern delicacies like raisins and sun-dried tomatoes are still done in this manner.  Don't be afraid to try your own hand at drying food items.  It's fun, fresh from the organic garden and the power is free so it's an all around green living project.

I don't know what I was waiting for when I said last year that 2010 would be the year I'd actually go buy myself a food dehydrator.  Good thing I lacked follow through on that one. Instead I found out it's easy to dehydrate my food with no "special" plastic gadget.

This summer I'm working on some specialty items like a healing tea made from only the tips of my organic herbs and a special garden recipe Summer Sunshine beef soup mix.  In order to make these, along with some other items, I would have to dry and dehydrate some herbs, fruits and vegetables.  Of course being me, I tend to follow my whims and inspirations, I didn't really plan when or how I would do this.

One day last week we visited some friends on the mainland who have a HUGE garden.  It was the first time I was offered zucchini this year and I jumped at the offer. (Thanks Parks family!)

That night when I walked across the passenger only ferry (early dry dock for the Whatcom Chief this year) I was carrying 4 very nice zucchini in my bag 2 large and 2 mediums.

The original plan was to make zucchini bread but when I woke up the next morning it occurred to me that those zucchini would make a wonderful addition to my Summer Sunshine soup mix.

I had already been drying different herbs in shoe boxes and hanging them in bundles in the sunshine.  Why not cut up and dehydrate those zucchini?  But how?  My shoe box method wasn't going to do the trick for these fluid filled beauties.  That's when I began my recycling brainstorm.  Here's what I came up with.

Making a Recycled Food Dehydrator

  • A plastic flat from the garden nursery.  I have many of these because we can't recycle them here, so I am always looking for a way to re purpose them.
  • Wire mesh scraps.  Hardware cloth with a 1/2 or finer works great.  (Alternately you could use window screen)
  • Tin snips or some other metal shears
  • Sunshine and time
Step 1:  Gather your materials.  Measure or eyeball your nursery flat to your mesh.  Cut the mesh to line the bottom of the nursery flat.  If using narrower scraps, just cut 2 pieces that fit inside and overlap them inside of the flat

Step 2:  Gather the item you want to dehydrate and add to the tray on top of the mesh liner.  On a sunny day things like herbs generally are dry the very next day, but items with more water like my zucchinis take a bit longer.

1/4 " hardware cloth
Step 3:  Place in a sunny area.  Choose a spot where it will be protected from wind, animals and rain.  This spot should also allow for air to circulate beneath your tray, so you may want to set it on 2 pieces of wood to elevate it slightly from the table or other surface.  I placed mine inside of my garden.  The fencing protects it from curious critters and raccoon prowlers.

Fresh sage leaves set out to dry for winter
Step 4:  Check your items daily for moisture content. If they are still damp toss or stir them and leave in the sun another day.  For long term storage your dehydrated food will need to be VERY dry.  Moisture remaining in the food is problematic and can be a place for mold to occur.  If your items need to be left out over night and you are concerned with flies or other insects (particularly when doing fruits) cover over them with another piece of your mesh or with some screen.

Step 5:  Once dried, store your items in labeled mason jars and use in your favorite recipes.  I'm saving mine for those gray winter days so I can taste the sunshine!

Here's some more photos from my sun drying adventures, so kick back, put your feet up and enjoy!


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