Food dehydrators make it possible to store your raw produce without the risk of bacteria breaking down the food. However, there is so much more that your dehydrator can do than make banana chips or dry carrot slices. From fruit and meat jerky to bark sheets, you can create wonderful treats your family can enjoy at home and on the trail.
Bark sheets are made from raw produce, such as sweet potatoes or corn, and your choice of broth or stock. The result is a smooth paste that you spread on sheets of waxed paper placed on the food dehydrator racks. Drying time is between 8 to 10 hours at a temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the bark is dried, it is stored in a zip-lock bag. White potatoes mixed in a blender with chicken broth or sweet potatoes blended with apple juice work well for bark sheets. Add the bark sheets to soups or stews for thickening or break the sheets up and mix with other foods to make a filling granola for hiking and camping.
Create your own recipes for turkey or beef jerky with your food dehydrator and avoid processed food additives or chemicals. The meat must be sliced thinly. Partial freezing makes the task easier. The meat is placed on the dehydrator racks once the meat has marinated for 12 to 24 hours, Drying time depends upon the thickness of the meat. Generally, for meat that is sliced about 1/4 inch thick and dried for 6 to 12 hours at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you prefer that smokey taste of store-bought jerky, add a teaspoon of liquid smoke to your recipe.
Kids love the fruit leathers available at the store that are made from processed fruit. Make your own leathers from the fresh strawberries and blueberries available from your own garden or farmer’s market. Puree the fruit and spread on waxed paper that is cut to fit the food dehydrator racks. Dry the fruit leather for 4 to 8 hours at a temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Fruit combinations that are favorites include strawberries and bananas, oranges and pineapples or cherries and kiwis. The fruit leather stores well in a zip-lock bag.
Instead of heating the kitchen during an already hot season, consider drying your tomatoes and peppers instead of canning. Tomatoes and peppers dry well with or without the seeds and both reconstitute in stews, sauces and soups. Other raw produce that does well in the dehydrator and stores well afterward include onions, peas and celery.
Remember the herbs when using your food dehydrator. Cut sprigs of parsley, chives, oregano and any other herbs at the end of the growing season. Wash the herbs and pat dry with a paper towel. Dry one type of herb at a time to avoid transferring flavors among the culinary additives. Place the herbs on the drying trays and dry for approximately 4 to 6 hours. Store the dried herbs in air-tight containers and use as you would those you buy at the supermarket.
The end of the growing season also means sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Dry your own seeds for an endless supply for the year. Soak the seeds in a mixture of salt and enough water to moisten the seeds. Use your own taste preference for the amount of salt to use. Create flavored seeds by adding garlic, pepper or other spices to the water. Dry the seeds for 1 to 2 hours at a temperature of 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Store the seeds in an air-tight container.