Dehydrating Strawberries and Preserving their Seeds

The sweet savor of strawberries is one of the first tastes of summer. Watching the small blossoms give way to plump red berries can be both a delight of anticipation and a torment of waiting. Whether your garden boasts rows upon rows of strawberry plants, or you favor small convenient planters that make the plants a decorative accent as well as a boon to your kitchen, strawberries are a low-maintenance crop with a rewarding yield. The benefits of growing strawberries are not limited to their picking time of April through July, however. A bit of work will allow you to enjoy their taste through the year until the next crop, and guarantee you a supply of seeds to grow that crop.

Whether you are making use of your own crop, or have visited a you-pick strawberry patch, the very best berries in your basket are the ones you should set aside to dehydrate (after eating a few fresh, of course!). They should be firm and well-ripened. Any berries that are fully ripe, past their prime for eating, should be set aside for their seeds. The prime berries should be prepared by rinsing them in clean water, then removing the caps. The next step depends on your preferred method of dehydration: will you use a food dehydrator, an oven, or the sun?

The sun has, of course, been used for many years to dehydrate berries, and is ideal for areas with low humidity that experience temperatures of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days in a row. To dehydrate your berries with solar power, cut them into thirds or quarters and place the pieces, not touching each other, in full sun. Keep them protected from insects and other hungry creatures, and let the sun do its work.

If you live in conditions that are less than ideal, and your oven has low settings, oven-dehydrating may be a good choice. Cut the pieces as you would for solar dehydrating, again arranging them so they do not touch, and set your oven to about 130 degrees. Precision is not necessary, so long as the oven heats to the optimal temperatures ranging between 90 and 140 degrees. Check the berries regularly, keeping in mind that they will not all dry at the same time.

If the first two options do not work for you, or you plan to do a lot of dehydrating, a food dehydrator will be a necessary tool that uses less energy than the oven and is more reliable than the conditions required for solar drying. The best electric dehydrators have a fan to keep air circulating and a good temperature gauge. Cut the berries again into even pieces and arrange on the trays. Dehydrate at 125-135 degrees, rotating them every 4 hours to dry them as evenly as possible. The process will take, on average, from 12 to 18 hours.

The berries are finished dehydrating when they are hard, almost crisp, but still slightly pliable. They should be stored in moisture-proof containers; either plastic containers with a good seal or canning jars work well. Dehydrated strawberries can also be vacuum-packed, which will extend their shelf life, but this isn’t necessary. The berries should not be used after they have been stored longer than a year. They make excellent additions to breakfast, snacks, and many recipes for their use are available on the internet.

As strawberry plants are only in their growing prime for two years, saving the seeds and planting them ensures the ongoing enjoyment of this treat. To remove the seeds, one method is to let the berries dry and gently rub them between your finger and thumb, allowing the seeds to fall off into a clean container. The other method is to push the berry through a sieve, taking care not to break the seeds, and when only pulp and seeds remain in the sieve, rinse them carefully until only the seeds are left. After they have been allowed to dry thoroughly, so that they no longer cling together, they should be stored in a cool, dry place. Clearly labeled envelopes will ensure an easier time finding them in the spring.