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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Dehydrating Foods

Frugal Kitchens 101
This is the time of year many are focusing on stocking up their pantry for winter. The past several Frugal Kitchens 101 have covered many aspects of home canning. Ideally when you put up foods for storage, no one method should be the sole method of storage. Instead you should use the three basic methods of canning, freezing and dehydrating then if possible add in curing and smoking. You do not have to do each method in equal portions either. For example I freeze approximately 10 to 15 dozen ears of corn because we prefer the flavour of frozen corn to canned. Following my method of not putting all my eggs in one basket I still can 6 to 8 pints of corn and dry a dozen ears of corn. This ensures that if something happened to the freezer we would still have corn. This week's the topic for Frugal Kitchen 101 is dehydrating foods.

Dehydrating foods is simply removing the water content from the food so the food keeps on the shelf for an extended period of time. Dehydrating offers the benefit of fitting a lot of food into a small area. The food packets are light weight with a shelf life of many years. Unlike freezing and much the same as canning, dried foods cost you nothing for storage. No electricity is needed for storage making dried foods an essential part of your emergency preparedness plans. All dried foods should be stored in a cool, dark location away from direct sunlight and heat.

Equipment used can be as simple as string for hanging herbs to dry or homemade wood frames with food grade mesh for drying outdoors to as expensive as the 9-tray Excalibur food dehydrator that will cost about $250. There are several inexpensive dehydrators on the market ranging in price from $25 to $50. Some stoves (eg. Jenn-Air) have a special dehydrating setting but any oven can be used for dehydrating providing it can be set between 125ºF and 145ºF. Some ovens will only go as low as 170ºF making them unsuitable for drying. In addition to screens and/or a dehydrator a food vacuum sealer (~ $100) is in my opinion a must for long term storage. This will keep out any water, humidity and insects. I also recommend once vacuum seal the packets of food be stored in a heavy plastic tote or metal can to protect against rodents that can chew through the vacuum sealed packets. The cheapest source I have found for the vacuum seal bags is The Sweet Attack (no affiliation but a very happy customer). Dried foods can also be stored in vacuum sealed mason jars and recycled food jars that will protect against rodents. The old fashioned canning jars with zinc ring, rubber rings and glass lids are ideal for this purpose. If you have a jar with the ring but no lid a used regular Snap canning jar lid can be held in place with the zinc ring. The rubber rings are still available (at least in Canada) manufactured by Viceroy Rubber & Plastics Ltd. of Toronto.

Most fruits and vegetables are suitable for drying. They can be prepared in such a manner to be used for soups, stews and casseroles later. Many fruits, vegetables and mushrooms can be dried themMany dried fruits are wonderful in baked goods or simply for snacking. Fruit leathers are always a popular snack too. One of my favourite uses for dried apple slices is floating them as a flavourful garnish in hot apple cider. Meats can be dried as jerky or cured then dried as sausage. Some are even drying cooked ground beef into beef rocks that can be rehydrated for later use. There is a wide range of possibilities then as to what you can dehydrate so as with canning before making a large batch of food for drying, make only one tray then test it as to how you like it. If you like the results then go ahead and dry a large batch.

Some foods are dried at a higher temperature than others. For the proper drying temperatures please refer to Bernardin™ Guide to Home Preserving, The Ball Blue Book or the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). Some foods need to be treated as part of the prep to prevent discolouration as well. Please refer to the mentioned sources for that information.

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