Even when it’s winter, you can still enjoy healthy, fresh foods from your garden. All you have to do is learn to preserve your favorite foods at home, safely. Thanks to our friend Kevin Espiritu, our readers will have a chance to get to know a number of food preservation techniques that are not only easy but, more importantly, safe.
Food preservation techniques have been around just about as long as we humans have, and they’re still some of the best ways to make sure that you have food long after your gardening season is over.
However, not all food preservation methods are the same. Some are easier than others, some are safer than others, and some plants can only be preserved in certain ways.
No matter which method you choose, properly sanitizing and following all safety precautions is a must, as improperly preserved food can cause serious health problems.
Perhaps one of the oldest food preservation methods, drying still has many practical uses today. More formally known as dehydration, this method has many benefits:
- Preserves the entire nutritional profile
- Increases flavor
- Costs almost nothing
- Decreases size of preserved food
While you can use fancy gear such as a food dehydrator or a dehydration cabinet, the simplest and lowest-cost way to get started with drying your food is simply by using your oven or the sun.
To dry your harvest, first slice your fruits or veggies to at least ½” to 1” pieces. This helps speed up the process by increasing the available surface area for drying.
To use the hang-drying method (which is best for herbs), tie the herbs in bunches and hang them from an area of your house that is dry and gets a lot of airflow. After a few days, the leaves of your herbs will be brittle, and you can scrape them off the stems and store them in spice containers. Looking for a little more detail on hang drying? Check out this article about hang-drying your herbs for frugal food preservation.
For those of you who don’t have enough sunlight or heat to properly sun-dry your harvest, the oven is your best friend. Turn your oven to 130-140°F and place your trays in for at least an hour. Every plant has a different drying time, so just look for the characteristics of good dehydration: a leathery, wrinkly appearance to the surface of your plants.
One thing to keep in mind is that the temperature fluctuation of the oven will cause greater changes in texture, flavor, and nutritional content as opposed to other drying methods.
Slice your plants just like you would if you were going to oven-dry, lay them on wax paper and a cookie sheet, and place in the sun. Sun-drying can take anywhere from two to four days, so be patient and be sure to turn over your plants every day for even dehydration. For most plants, what you are looking for is for them to be hard-dried – meaning there are absolutely no moist spots. This prevents rot and mold from occurring when you store them. You can also utilize the sun and your vehicle to create a thrifty dehydrator for your foods. Learn more about how to do it in this article on drying herbs in your car.
Best Vegetables to Dry
Herbs are the most popular plants to dry for many home gardeners. By preserving them, you can add their flavor-packed goodness to recipes throughout the entire year. Drying fruits is also quite popular, as they make a great snack.