Dehydrating food goes beyond the practical side of stocking your pantry with nutritious, tasty foods; you gain personal satisfaction knowing that you created this stored bounty with your own hands. You’ll feel a sense of pride and independence, fostering a connection to generations before who used these food dehydration principles.
The first step in storing dehydrated food is to make sure the food is fully and properly dried. Cool the food completely; warm food can sweat, causing moisture that contributes to mold growth. Then test your dehydrated food for dryness using Cooperative Extension’s [http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/] guidelines based on what food you are drying.
Dehydrating fruit requires a special step called “conditioning,” a process that equalizes the moisture, because all the fruit pieces might not have dried equally due to their size or position in the dehydrator. After the dried fruit has cooled, pack it loosely in a glass jar. Seal the jar, and let it sit for 10 days, shaking the jar daily to separate the pieces. The excess moisture of some fruit pieces will be absorbed by drier fruit pieces, inhibiting mold growth. Vegetables generally do not need to be conditioned, because they already are very dry when they’ve finished dehydrating.
Once fully dry, pack the dehydrated food in clean, dry, insect-proof and moisture-resistant containers such as glass jars, metal cans and plastic freezer containers or bags. Make sure the container has a tight-fitting lid. Pack dehydrated food in small amounts, because each time a container is reopened, the food is exposed to moisture and air that cause spoilage and affect food quality. When opening a container for consumption, fully inspect the dehydrated food. Discard it immediately if there are any signs of mold or spoilage.
Store dried food in a cool, dry, dark area; higher temperatures cause shorter storage durations. Dried food typically can be stored for one year at 60 degrees F but for only six months at 80 degrees F. Dried vegetables typically have half the shelf life of dried fruits. For best flavor and increased shelf life, freeze or refrigerate dried jerky.
“Preserving food, by any method, allows us to eat and enjoy the flavors of summer during winter and early spring months when our gardens are sleeping or not yet in full production,” says Melinda Hemmelgarn, a Missouri-based registered dietitian, columnist and radio host. “With any method of food preservation, the goal is to preserve just what you’ll need until the next growing season. Take notes. Did you run out of canned tomatoes, fruit leathers and frozen berries last year? Always plan your garden, harvest and preservation methods accordingly.”
Excerpt from the Popular Kitchen Series magabook Canning & Preserving with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Canning & Preserving here [http://www.urbanfarmonline.com/urban-farm-magazine-and-books/popular-kitchen/canning-and-preserving.aspx]
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