Dehydrating Garden Produce
Jerk That Tomato, Son!


Dennis Dezendorf

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Dennis's Momma
  Y'all say hi to my Mom!
As long as I can remember, Momma had a garden. As a lad when my feeble mind couldn't find something to keep me occupied, Mom would find something for me to do. It usually involved sweat and hand tools. I remember spring-time garden spading. With a family of seven on a working-man's salary, the garden was a source of inexpensive, quality vegetables. At some point in my youth, my father bought a gasoline tiller and the spading chores went down, but the size of the garden increased. When I was growing up, shelling peas was a constant chore. What Mom couldn't produce in the garden, she bought locally. We shelled peas interminably until they were all done. Then she blanched them and canned them. I still love the taste of home canned peas.

Dad was a big proponent of freezing, and we always had a freezer full of game and fish. I remember one winter when he had gone on a job down in South Louisiana after a hurricane. The fishing fleet was bringing in shrimp that had been broken in the storm, and you could buy ungraded shrimp off the boats for ten cents a pound. At one point, the entire freezer was filled with shrimp. Have you ever gotten tired of eating shrimp? I did that summer. With Dad filling the freezer, Mom had to can the produce from the garden.

Electric Dehydrator
  Mom's dehydrator. These things come in all shapes and sizes.
A few years ago, my siblings bought Mother a dehydrator for Christmas. While blanching and canning are still useful methods of preserving some kinds of foods, Mom started using the dehydrator for some of her produce. Her food processor was bought at Target, I believe. You can shop around and find one that has the size and features you need. Walmart carries dehydrators, and you can find one to suit just about any budget or need. This machine is durable, washable, and very easy to use. Complete instructions come with it.

Ready to dry

Slice the tomatos into quarter-inch thickness. Go ahead and fill the tray completely. When they start drying, you are going to have plenty of room.

Dried tomatoes

These are done. They lose a lot of volume, but retain all the vitamins and minerals. Just about the only thing you lose is the water.
The machine has trays in it that the vegetables sit on. These trays are perforated so air can move through them. Mom demonstrated for me by drying some tomatoes. Tomatoes have a lot of liquid in them, and they take longer to dry than some other vegetables might. She sliced the tomatoes in quarter-inch slices and lined the trays with tomatoes slices.

When the trays are full, and stacked one atop the other, she puts the lid on the dehydrator, and takes it outside to plug in. She takes the machine outdoors because it makes noise, it generates heat, and it blows that hot air right out the top of it. She lets it run for eight hours then brings it in at night. She brings it indoors because she doesn't want the dew setting on it, she doesn't want to take the chance of the veggies re-hydrating in the moist night air, and she doesn't want the neighborhood dogs sniffing around it.

The next day she lets it run for another eight hours, then checks the vegetables for dryness. When they are dry enough to store, they have a leathery feel.

To the right, you'll see what the tomatoes look like when they are completely dry. Momma packages them in zipper bags and puts them in her cupboard. No refrigeration is necessary. To re-hydrate them, put them in water. To thicken soup, just drop a handful in the soup stock.

I can see a huge benefit to using a dehydrator for camping and hunting. Those little tomato slices are wonderful eaten right out of the bag, like potato chips. A handful of dried tomatoes on a deer stand would take the place of some less healthy snack. They don't need refrigeration, so they wouldn't take up any ice-chest room. They won't spoil unless they get wet, so keep them dry and they should stay preserved indefinitely. If for some reason they get wet in a sudden downpour, make chili with them that night.

You can dry okra, squash, eggplant, fruits, almost anything that you don't want to can. Dried peaches are excellent. I'm gonna save my pennies and get me a dehydrator. I bet it makes great jerky. I'll keep y'all updated.

Copyright 2001 by Dennis Dezendorf


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