“So Tell Me Again…”- Part 3, by M.P.

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What Dehydrated Foods Can Be Stored in a Single Half-Gallon Jar

Below I’ve listed some of the quantities of dehydrated foods you can expect to store in a single half-gallon jar. Some may really surprise you, as it did me. Also, I don’t use Mylar for any dehydrated items, because I want to extract the most air possible for the longest shelf-life. With only a couple of exceptions, I use one-half gallon jars exclusively. So here we go:

Mixed Veggies— Frozen from the store, 10 lbs. That’s ten packages of the old 16-ounce bags!

Carrots— Frozen from the store or sliced from fresh, 9 lbs. Unless you catch a great sale on frozen, slicing fresh is always a better buy per pound, even if you go with organic.

Peas— Frozen from the store, 12 lbs.

Kernel Corn— Frozen from the store or off the cob, 12 lbs.

Potatoes— Diced in ½ inch cubes, 8-9 lbs. I don’t slice mine anymore as you get almost twice as much jarred by dicing. When sliced they curl just like potato chips in the drying process and leave a lot of air space in the jar.

Celery— 18 large stalks. This is serious business; that’s one year’s worth for cooking in one jar.

Green Beans— 9-10 lbs.

Mushrooms— 6 lbs.

Onions— 12 lbs. medium-size slices for cooking in dishes, not the miniature pieces for seasoning.

Cauliflower— 15 large heads. I’m serious!

Brocolli— 9 large crowns. Again, I’m serious.

Spinach— Dried and powdered in a coffee grinder, 4 lbs per pint jar. (This is used to add to soups and dishes. It is multi-vitamins in a jar! And remember, kale can be done the same way and is in the superfood category, as it is even more nutritionally potent than spinach.)

Apples— 6-7 lbs.

Oranges— Thick-sliced, cut in half with the rinds, 5 large (grapefruit size). Thin-sliced, cut in half with rinds, the classic medium size, 10.

Strawberries—15 lbs. That’s not a typo.

Bananas—13-15 lbs. The weight before peeling.

Pears/Zucchini/Squash–? Haven’t redone these yet, but the pears are very similar to apples in terms of what you can expect to store in one jar and the zucchini and squash I plan to dice this time around for the same reason as the potatoes– more product per jar.

A Side Note On Jarring

When I jar dried goods, I use a twist-and-tap technique to settle the contents. I fill the jar about one-third full, give it a few sharp twists back and forth holding the rim and then multiple firm raps on the bottom. I then repeat two more times as I am filling. This eliminates air space, doesn’t damage the food, and gets one-quarter more product in every jar. That adds up to fifteen pounds more food in every six-jar case! When you fill jars, just don’t go berserk and start mashing with your hand. Take extra care with the broccoli; it powders pretty easily.

A Few Miscellaneous Points

To blanch or not to blanch? For seasoned dehydrating people, this conversation can be likened to the “best gun to buy” debate between gun owners. It’s endless. In short, blanching is when you dunk certain fruits in a lemon juice/vinegar/soda solution, or vegetables into boiling water prior to drying. It does two things. In boiling water with vegetables, it stops the enzyme action. Enzymes are what cause both fruit and vegetables to ripen and eventually rot. Secondly, blanching helps maintain the original color. Potatoes, if not blanched in boiling water, will turn blackish when dried. Bananas, if not blanched in a lemon solution, do the same, and other fruits and veggies will, to varying degrees, turn darker in color. Some items you simply can’t blanch without destroying. These include cucumbers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. I’ve weeded through a number of articles debating the pros and cons of blanching verses not blanching, and it seems, with only a few exceptions, to be a matter of personal preference. If you don’t think you can bring yourself to eat black potatoes, then blanch. I’ve taste-tested blanched and unblanched potatoes side-by-side and could tell no discernable difference in taste or texture. None. On the other hand my bananas had a pronounced cardboard flavor without juicing them. I personally don’t blanch whenever I can avoid it. My reasoning is, if or when I have to rely on these preps as my only means of survival I strongly suspect there will be a lack of fresh foods available and hence a serious dietary enzyme shortage, so I want to preserve as many enzymes in my diet as possible.

Also, to help counter this possible enzyme shortage problem, I have stocked a sizable supply of sprouting seeds as a way of getting not only enzymes but robust vitamin and mineral nutrition. I don’t think the average Joe understands the important role enzymes play in our general health nor in the digestion process. Enzymes can be likened to the “pac men” of our systems. They are the catalyst for digestion and then additionally go around eating up the bad guys throughout the rest of the body.

There are those that argue by omitting the blanching process, you are shortening the shelf life of stored goods because enzymes, although in a hibernating state, still continue to degrade the food. I don’t doubt that, but with the proper rotation this factor is mitigated. In my thinking, not blanching saves the enzymes, and properly rotating gives you the best of both worlds. I would suggest not getting hung up on this point. There’s no right or wrong decision. Do what you prefer.

Drying Temperatures

The standard recommendation for vegetables is 125-135 degrees Fahrenheit and 135-145 degrees for fruits. If you’re new to dehydrating, start with these. They are tested and true. Once you become seasoned, you can experiment to accomplish different effects. If you are concerned about preserving enzymes, as mentioned earlier, you won’t want to dry any higher than 115 degrees, as it’s generally agreed that enzymes are killed off at drying temps of 118 and higher. This will prolong the drying times, but that’s no big deal. If you do decide to dry at this lower temperature, it’s a good idea to put an oven or cooking thermometer in your dryer to fine tune to the actual temperature. Just beware that as the heating element cycles on and off you will get a noticeable fluctuation in temperature readings (10-20 degrees from my experience), so you’ll want to leave the thermometer in for a good half hour, checking every five minutes and tweaking the setting so that the highest reading goes no higher than 115 degrees. This is the temperature I use when drying vegetables. Store-bought frozen veggies are always blanched and could be dried at the higher temps, because the enzymes are already dead, but I still dry at the lower temperature, because an added benefit of the lower temp is that you get less of a rubbery texture when rehydrated. I’ve tested this, and it’s a noticeable improvement in a side-by-side test. As far as fruits go, some you can dry at lower than recommended temperatures; others you can’t. Some will “case-harden”, which means the outside dries faster than the inner and the moisture from the inner part of the fruit can’t escape, so they will be dry on the outside and remain moist on the inside. But don’t get all caught up in this in the beginning. Like I said, start with the standard temperatures and then you can experiment after you have some decent jars under your belt.

Also, if you’re brand new to this world, I would suggest beginning with your favorite vegetables. Fruits are by far more finicky to get those fine-tuned primo results. I once read an article where the lady writing was adamant that the flavor of her dried watermelon was vastly improved by cutting the pieces to a different shape and length. I don’t get that at all and have only recently started to dry watermelon, so I don’t have a track record to either confirm or challenge her contention, but that’s what I mean by fruits being more of a challenge to perfect. Veggies on the other hand, fresh or frozen, are almost impossible to muck-up. Start there. It’ll build your confidence quickly.

Rack/Tray Rotation

There are two types of dehydrators. The round style has a series of stackable trays. The fan and drying unit are located at the bottom of the tray set. The air is circulated through the screens of the trays upward. The other style is square and usually has between seven and nine racks configured much like an oven, but the fan and heating element are on the backside and the air is blown more evenly over the tiered racks to the front. Both types require rotating the trays for even drying. It’s not a biggie, just a part of the process. For the round style, rotate upper to lower, and for the tier style, rotate inner to outer. This insures even drying. I rotate mine on a quarterly basis. By that I mean if I think my batch of whatever is going to run for a couple of days (48 hours), I will rotate every twelve hours, which is quarterly. The timing of rotating isn’t make or break crucial, but as you get familiar with your dehydrator you’ll see that either the inner or the outer trays dry faster than the others, so simply rotate them throughout the drying cycle.

Drying Times

This varies obviously on what you’re doing and what temperature you decide to dry at, but for veggies that you want to put in the jar for long-term storage, dry until their crunchy. In other words, dry until there’s no bending, they break with a snap, or in the case of say corn or peas, they crush to a powder. I call this the crunch test. You can’t get these too dry. The drier they are, the better. Fruits will vary. Some just won’t get crunchy because of the higher sugar content, but I dry mine until I’m confident they’re as dry as they’re going to get. It never hurts to leave them in for another six, eight, or twelve hours. Now, if you’re planning to make some fruit for the family to eat short term, you will need to start with the basic recommended drying times that you find anywhere on the Internet and then simply do the taste test every quarter like mentioned earlier. Then stop drying when they suit your taste. Incidentally, fruits of any kind are seriously addictive, and drying them yourself gives you the added advantage of fine-tuning the texture (firmness) to your taste preference instead of the stores’.

Rehydrating

We covered this earlier, but in brief I have not found the classic recommendations of two-to-four hours to be even close to suitable for full rehydration. Most of my veggies are cooked and put into different concoctions that I create. Cooking does expedite the rehydration process a bit, but if you want these puppies to be indistinguishable from fresh, rehydrate a minimum of twelve hours and forty-eight hours maximum. As you watch throughout the day, you’ll see how they continue to plump. It’ll be obvious. This is especially true with broccoli and cauliflower, zucchini, and squash. Just change and add water once every twelve hours or so. You can’t hurt vegetables by soaking them too long. Fruits are a tad different. Since I usually dry for long-term storage, I dry them much longer than I do when drying to eat in the short term. But when you’re ready to eat your long-term dried fruits, simply take some out, soak in water for a half-an-hour to an hour, and then lay out on a towel. They soften to the perfect eating texture.

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