How to Dehydrate Foods without a Dehydrator
Dehydrating foods is one of the oldest long-term food preservation methods known to man. If you think about it, it must have been exciting for early man to discover that small pieces of raw meat, fruit, and vegetables — when left outside in the sun or wind — did not go bad but were actually preserved for quite a long time and retained much of it’s original flavor.
Since those early beginnings, technology may have changed how we dry foods but the principles behind process has not. In this article I want to share some methods of dehydrating foods that don’t require the need of a store-bought dehydrator.
Alternate Dehydrating Methods
Most everything that we eat contains some amount of moisture; and it is this moisture that causes food to go bad. Dehydrating is nothing more than removing water from food which inhibits decay and the growth of microorganisms. If you can remove the moisture from foods than you can extend their storage life way beyond their normal shelf life.
Here are some methods that you can use which don’t require the use of a dehydrator. These obviously aren’t the only methods (they are just the ways I like to do it).
Place food on or between two screens (window screens work just fine) and place outside on a sunny day. It does not have to be necessarily warm outside (you can do this in the winter). Just be sure that it is not wet outside as this will defeat the purpose of drying.
I would not recommend this method of drying if you have an electric oven (it’s too expensive). Here’s the process:
Set your oven temperature to very low (140 degrees F) and leave the fruit or vegetables in the oven until completely dry and nearly crisp (between 4 and 12 hours). It may be necessary to turn the cookie sheet(s) around in ovens with uneven heat distribution.
This method is best used for drying meats. Basically you’ll want to hang strips of meat on a rack and place these in front of a fire. Vegetables and fruits can be placed on the ground near the fire, however be sure that you are protecting the food from nearby critters.
Form a bag out of some netting (or use an existing netted bag) and place the food inside it. This is then hung from a clothes line or tree branch outside. This method also works inside the house in front of a fan.
A Word of Caution about Home-made Jerky
Even though I’ve been making jerky outside for many years now without issue, I need to caution you that the USDA does not recommend drying meats at home. Given that in a survival/major-collapse type of situation, normal medical facilities may not be available, food-borne illnesses like Salmonella are a very real issue and it may be a good idea to follow their recommendations.
This warning also applies to many store-bought dehydrators. Since many of these can only heat up to 140 °F, it will not reach a high-enough temperature to kill the microorganisms. Here are the current recommendations per the usda.gov:
[The USDA's] current recommendation for making jerky safely is to heat meat to 160 °F and poultry to 165 °F before the dehydrating process. This step assures that any bacteria present will be destroyed by wet heat. But most dehydrator instructions do not include this step, and a dehydrator may not reach temperatures high enough to heat meat to 160 °F.
After heating, maintaining a constant dehydrator temperature of 130 to 140 °F during the drying process is important because:
- the process must be fast enough to dry food before it spoils; and
- it must remove enough water that microorganisms are unable to grow
Dryness Test Guidelines
Here are some guidelines on how to know if your dehydrated food is sufficiently dry.
|GUIDELINES FOR FRUITS AND VEGETABLES|
|Apples, pears, peaches||Wash, core, and peel. Cut into 1/4″ slices or rings||Leathery with no moisture when cut|
|Apricots, plums||Wash, halve and pit.
|Leathery and pliable No moisture when cut|
|Bananas, rhubarb||Peel, slice in thin rounds||Brittle|
|Berries||Sort, wash, and remove stems.||Brittle and hard|
|Cherries, grapes||Sort and wash. Pit cherries.||Slightly sticky, like raisins|
|Asparagus tips||Wash, blanch 3 minutes.||Leathery to brittle|
|Beans, cabbage, peppers||Wash, chop into small pieces. Blanch 4 minutes||Brittle|
|Broccoli, cauliflower||Wash, trim, and chop. Blanch 3 minutes.||Brittle|
|Carrots||Wash, cut into slices. Blanch 3 minutes.||Dry and brittle|
|Corn||Husk, trim, cut off cob.||Dry and brittle|
|Mushrooms||Wash, sort, and slice 1/4″ thick.||Dry and brittle|
|Onions||Remove outer skin, then chop.||Brittle|
|Peas||Shell and sort. Blanch 3 min.||Brittle|
|Squash, zucchini||Wash, peel, remove seeds. Blanch 2 minutes.||Leathery and tough|
|Tomatoes||Scald, chill, and peel. Slice into quarters.||Leathery and tough|