How would you like to enjoy dried chillies, vegetable crisps, and tomatoes all year round? In fact, you can dry a wide range of fruit, vegetables, and herbs – it’s an excellent way to preserve homegrown harvests for future use.
There’s still time to give it a try – order a few garden-ready vegetable plants if you didn’t have time to sow your own. We asked some of our favourite grow-your-own bloggers to share their tried and tested methods for drying and dehydrating fresh produce. Here are their top tips…
What equipment do you need to dry or dehydrate fresh food?
You don’t need any specialist equipment for drying surplus fruits and vegetables – an oven does the job perfectly well. If you’d like to take things to the next level, a dehydrator allows you to dry bigger batches more consistently.
Professional gardener Monika of @monikabrzoza, says: “You will need jars (or in my case hundreds of jars) to put your preserves and pickles in. That’s easy. Just ask your friends, family, co-workers, next door neighbours (or everyone who lives in your street in my case) to save them for you 🙂 Recycle & reuse.”
Sterilise jars before use by taking a leaf out of Claire Rees’ book. The green fingers behind @pegsplot, she says. “I sterilise my jars in the oven – I wash them with soapy water, rinse with boiling water, empty and then add to the oven for about 10 minutes.”
Air drying fresh fruit and veg
The simplest way to dry your produce is simply to put it in a warm, dry spot with good airflow and let nature take its course. Eli from In the Garden with Eli and Kate shares this simple way to dry chillies:
“Get yourself a needle and thread (I know it sounds weird but go with me on this), and sew them together, importantly, though, don’t pierce the actual body of the chilli, pierce the needle through the stem and then thread them all on there like a big necklace.Then hang that in your airing cupboard and forget about it.”
Air drying really is an easy way to preserve produce and anyone can do it. As Monika says, “My half plot allotment is mostly herb garden. I hang them indoors and then store them in jars and it works really well.”
Oven drying fresh fruit and veg
Oven-drying is a great way to make fruit and vegetable crisps, dried fruit snacks, and also vegetable powders to give your soups and stews a burst of extra goodness and flavour through the winter. It’s a simple process too – slice produce like apples, plums, parsnips, radishes, carrots and beetroot into thin slivers. Wash and pat dry leafy veg like kale. Now place your produce on baking trays and put them in the oven on a low heat.
Test fruit to see if it’s ready; when it looks slightly shrivelled, take a knife and cut a slice in half. Examine the blade for droplets of moisture; if you spot any, you should return the tray to the oven for a bit longer. Veg should be brittle enough to snap easily. When it’s done, allow your crisps to cool before transferring them to clean, airtight containers and storing in a dark cupboard.
Bumper horseradish harvest? Claire Rees at @pegsplot suggests drying it to give all sorts of recipes an extra kick:
“I had a big patch [of horseradish] growing at my allotment and it doesn’t keep for very long when fresh. I grated the horseradish, spread it on lined baking trays and cooked on the lowest oven setting I had (30-40 degrees celsius) for about 5 hours until completely dry. Once cool, I blitzed it into a powder. It’s great sprinkled on meats prior to cooking, and also added to yoghurt or creme fraiche to make into a horseradish sauce.”
If dried fruit is your thing, Kev at An English Homestead is your go-to source for expert information. He dries as many as 400 apples per year, plus plums, damsons and lots of other tasty morsels. He says: “the dried plums and damsons get used in my muesli daily instead of raisins.”
How to use a dehydrator to preserve fresh fruit and veg
If you’d like to take your drying to the next level, investing in a dehydrator enables you to dry more produce more quickly. About the same size as a microwave, it combines a heater element with a fan, and contains several drying shelves. You should check the manufacturer’s instructions for drying times.
Monika Brzoza only bought her dehydrator this year, she says she’s “still, learning and experimenting how to dehydrate things right. But I’m pretty pleased with the results.” So far, her favourites are:
- Tomatoes which, as well as making into crisps, she saves in airtight containers for use in breadmaking
- Salad cucumbers flavoured with salt and cider vinegar
- Peppers and chillies which she keeps ready to use in sauces and curries
Don’t be afraid to experiment
You can dry anything, so be adventurous. As Monika says: “What I’ve learnt over the years is do your own thing and don’t be afraid to experiment. You will be surprised with the results.”
That’s a message Carla at @flowers_and_veg_at_no_57 has clearly taken to heart. She says: “My favourite things to dehydrate are vegetables harvested from my garden. After they’re dehydrated I turn them into powder so I can store and use them for natural colours in homemade natural soaps and skincare.” Carla has some great ideas to put vegetable powders to good use. Not only does she add a sprinkle to soups and casseroles, she uses them to colour homemade pasta, flavour fresh bread, spice up scrambled egg and give her brownies a secret nutritional boost.
But why stop there? Carla also dries edible flowers which she adds to homemade teas, infuses into honey, and uses to decorate handmade soaps and bath salts.
Drying and dehydrating fresh produce really couldn’t be easier. Not only is it an excellent way to preserve your harvest so you can use it all winter long, it’s also enormous fun. We’d love to hear about your experiences with drying; use #yourtmgarden to share your images.
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