One of my best gadgets for the kitchen lives in the cupboard for the winter months, unless a glut of something tasty comes into the store, then occasionally it gets a run out. I’m talking of course about a food dehydrator – a lesser known stalwart gadget which earns its keep if you grow or buy seasonal gluts of fruit and vegetables to store for the winter.
It’s so nice to be picking and preparing summer vegetables and fruits again, rather than peeling and chopping winter root crops for a casserole or stew, to ward off bitter cold weather. The summer crop comes just it time, at the point you never want to eat parsnips again and you’ve run out of last seasons preserved food, in come the sweet delicate broad beans to rescue your palate.
Shortly there will be more vegetables in the garden than we can eat and if you don’t keep picking peas and runner beans, they stop producing pods. So begins the age old annual kitchen cycle of preserving food for the winter, which used to mean hours of fiddly bottling, canning and freezing.
What’s more, this year one’s own kitchen needs may have been led astray by eyes being bigger than the family’s combined ability to eat all the zucchinis already forming on very healthy plants. Oops! Why do I always grow so many?
It’s the same with tomatoes every year, more grown than can ever be made into sauce or otherwise processed. But dried they take on a whole new lease of life and a whole lot less room in storage, leaving room in the freezer for cooked meals. Forget those hours spent canning or blanching then freezing – try drying instead.
Drying summer herbs like oregano, sage and rosemary means you have a supply of mixed herbs to hand all winter, which you know haven’t been sitting in a warehouse for months and which will have retained all their pungent flavors. Apples, plumbs, pears, apricots, they all dry brilliantly well and reconstituted make delicious fruit crumbles.
Using a food dehydrator isn’t without a little labor. You do have to prepare the fruit and vegetables in thin slices. The fastest and most time efficient way is with a meat slicer, but a sharp knife works fine – just slower. You also need to spray the food prepared for drying with lemon juice, to help preserve the color – compared to hot jars and boiling water, this is a doddle.
Other than that, it’s very easy. You lay out slices of tomato or apples etc on the drying racks and set the dehydrator off. If I compare the time and effort that we used to put into canning and bottling what we now dry, there is no contest, dehydration wins hands down.
That’s not to say nothing gets bottled anymore, fruit gin is a taste of summer in the middle of winter and fruit gets frozen for use in our treasured iced treat maker, but mostly these days, surplus gets dried then revived for winter goodies that bring a taste of summer on cold dark winter evenings.
Only the very best kitchen gadgets earn their keep like this one does.