This was a first for me, although I watched my mom dry apricots and apples growing up. It is surprisingly easy.
I got most of my information from this site. And from an older version of this book which a sweet lady I visit teach let me borrow. I'm telling you, there is a wealth of information about food storage out there--you just have to find it!
There are different methods of drying foods. I'm just going to talk about using a dehydrator because that's what Hannah has. I thought about drying some food in my oven, but the thought of having my oven on and cracked open for six-twelve hours with a curious toddler running around made me a little nervous. Besides, why use an oven when you can borrow your friend's? Speaking of which, I just bought a bag of onions, Hannah, can I borrow your dehydrator? Point being: borrow, borrow, borrow! Just thank your lender by handing over some of your products.
Some of the pluses of dehydrating are: easy prep and clean up (not like last week), no sugar added so it's healthier, plus when you use lower temperatures (unlike high temps for canning) less vitamins are lost from the food. Recommended storage time is 6 months-1 year for best quality and nutritional value. So basically the food you dry could last forever, but not have any nutritional value. Which defeats the purpose. Unless you are on a diet.
Where do you get the food to dehydrate? From your garden! When produce goes on sale! From neighbors who have obliging fruit trees and gardens. From U-pick operations.
Now that we have all of the basics out of the way, let's dry some food! I have to admit that the food item I'm most concerned about drying is onions. How would I live without onions? There should be a song about it. So we'll be drying some of those. We'll also dry pears because, remember, I got those for FREE!
So pears first:
Turn on your dehydrator so that when your fruit is ready, you are all ready to go. The temperature setter thing is at the bottom there, just like an oven setting. 135 degrees Fahrenheit for pears.
Wash your pears. You don't want to let them sit forever in the water. I think we just rinsed ours. But you also don't want any dirt or bugs on them. Obviously. Peel them, because their skins get really tough when dried. We didn't know that (and are too lazy) so we left ours on.
Cut, core and slice your pears. Pears, and other fruits like pears, brown when exposed to air so we pretreat them.
One source suggested a sulfur treatment which looked way too intense for me (lazy) and the other source suggested pretreating the cut pears with ascorbic acid for five minutes before drying (much easier).
We didn't do either (lazy, recurring theme) and the pears turned out fine. So that seems to be a matter of opinion.
Lay them out on your drying racks. Try to get similar sized fruits on the same tray so they will dry at the same rate. Leave a little room between each fruit so the air/heat can get around all the surface area.
Stick 'em in the dryer and let them go 6-20 hours or until leathery. The drying time will correlate to humidity in the air, and the amount of water in your fruit. So feel free to taste test until you are happy with the end product.
Store your fruit in plastic freezer bags and be sure to squeeze all the air out that you can. Store in a dark, cool place.
Or in your stomach, where these pears ended up. Or Hannah's rather, I've never been very partial to pears. I think they taste like apples that have been rolled around the sandbox.
I got the onions from a club warehouse for very little. I usually buy a big sack and freeze them. Peel and dice and freeze in a freezer bag. But I thought it would be a good idea to have some dried just in case the power goes out, or to take camping.
Preheat the dryer, 130 degrees for onions.
Peel the onions and slice into 1/8-1/4 inch thick.
Layer them on your trays. Be sure to leave a little room around them.
You can dry different fruits together. Don't dry onions with anything. Unless you want onion flavored pears. In fact, one source suggested drying onions outside so the pungency wouldn't affect your home. It wasn't my house so I didn't worry about it.
Dry 6-12 hours until crisp and papery. Again drying time will vary depending on where you live. Good luck with the taste test here.
Again, store in a ziplock bag, where all the air has been removed that can be possibly removed. If you want to make onion flakes or powder. Stick these in your blender and grind it up. Be sure and store it with as little exposure to air as possible.
Try to store your food in portion size amounts. You want to reduce the number of times your dehydrated food is exposed to air. The air will reabsorb the moisture in the air and that can make them spoil sooner.