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Dehydrating the Harvest

Face it, you can only eat so many pickles before you turn into one. And if you are a true gardener you made enough cucumbers to feed a small army and give them ammunition. It’s only natural though. Gardeners tend to be nurturing people – people who feel fulfilled when the give of themselves to one another. So they give away their harvest, but there always seems to be more. And when that last harvest of the season comes, and you’ve brought boxes, bags, and buckets of vegetables into your home, setting them on any flat surface available in the house, it’s time to think about storing them.

There are a number of methods available – you can simply store them in a cool, dry, and dark place and they should keep. You can also use a canner – heating them to a high temperature and vacuum sealing them, keeping them fresh for years. The last method is dehydrating your food. This is most well known for being the process by which we get beef jerky, but it can also be used for your fruits and vegetables too.

With any preservation method, it is important to get rid of any rot, disease, decay, or even bruising as soon as possible. This spreads to the other vegetables like a giggle in a kindergarten class. The giggle doesn’t ruin an entire growing season’s worth of work, though.

Once you have ensured you only have the freshest of vegetables, it’s time to look at dehydrating. Obviously dehydration involves removing the water from food and other products. This kills the bacteria and keeps the food from spoiling. It also makes a steak turn into a nickel. Well, not quite, but dehydration removes a great deal of the weight an bulk of a food.

People used to dehydrate foods by leaving them in the sun. Now there are many different dehydrators available, but they all work on the same principle. A gardener puts his harvest into the dehydrator. It warms the food slightly and allows the moisture to evaporate. Some dehydrators cycle air through them to speed this process up even more. This is not a fast process. When a gardener dehydrates food in the sun, it can take three to five days. Dehydrators can do the same job in about 6 hours.

There are countless dehydrator recipes, but for the sake of the gardener, we will focus on the drying vegetables. Vegetables much go through a process known as “blanching” prior to being dried. This heats the vegetables with steam or water hot enough to destroy the enzymes in it. Not blanching vegetables will result in bitter tasting veggies down the road.

After that, you place the vegetables in the dehydrator for the specified amount of time, remove them and let them cool, then place them in an airtight container. They will keep this way for 6-12 months if the storage conditions are right – cool, dry, and dark. Vegetables can be eaten as a healthy alternative to the potato chip, or they can be reconstituted by adding water. This is great for making soup or stew later on.

Thanks to the dehydration process, if it is done correctly, you can enjoy your homegrown vegetables for months down the road.

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