Sunday, October 3, 2010

Harvesting through dehydration

Sometime in August Steve researched and purchased a dehydrator. We had been talking about this as a way to preserve some foods that weren't so easy to can or took up lots of freezer space.
is the link to the company we purchased from. Look under dehydrators, the links are complicated to duplicate here.

What was really motivating us was blueberries.
While we had been in Lunenburg in May, the salads all had these lovely dried blueberries in them, making an otherwise dull salad inspiring. We shopped around at our local stores and the best we could find was a 250g bag for nearly $8.00. This seemed painful. Over the summer we recalled that we had bought dried apples and pears a few times from the market at $3.00 a baggie but the vendors seemed to have stopped coming.

Blueberry season arrived and it was too good a chance to miss this experiment. The unit and shipping cost us slightly over $100. We bought the 750 watt unit, because the consumer reports suggested that there wasn't much difference in energy consumption but a large difference in out put of dried food.

The last week in August, we followed instructions and boiled our blueberries for a quick minute or two, and then dried them. It was mush. Do not boil your blueberries. The waxy outer coating needs to be pierced in some manner to allow the insides to dry more thoroughly. We refrigerated that experiment and added them to pancakes. The following weekend, we bought two pints of blueberries and with a darning needle in one hand and a seemingly endless supply of blueberries in the other, we gave each blueberry two pierces and then laid them on the trays to dry.

We also peeled and cored a quart of pears. There are different drying times for each kind of fruit or vegetable but it is possible to put the longer drying foods on the bottom trays and the quicker ones on top. We did a bunch of bananas because store purchased dried bananas have palm oil in the processing and that is bad for us. We are very conflicted about bananas. There are some instructions around this, but essentially as one tray dries, its end product can be taken off and put into storage.

Today we tackled a large bunch of green onions and a celery plant. Each vegetable was washed and toweled off. I chopped the green onions coarsely (they dry up really small and might fall through the tray's holes) and did the same with the celery leaves. The celery stalks are sliced lengthwise and put into small baggies in the freezer. We have found that one good sized celery plant will keep us going for most of a year. We make two batches of turkey or chicken stock, several chilies and spaghetti sauces and use the remainder randomly in different dishes over the year, rissotto, paella, chicken pot pie and so forth. Using fresh local celery, even frozen, is very tasty. It keeps its strong flavour and half as much is needed to get the taste while winter celery requires double the amount.

We have dried 10 baggies of pears and they are sweet and tender from that one quart. They will be wonderful on their own, chopped and added to trail mix or baking or over ice cream. We fantasized about peaches but we never seem to have our act together when peaches arrive. Too much else is going on. That will be a major project next summer, jam, preserves and dried peaches.

One of the more obvious foods to dry would be tomatoes. There is certainly good reasons to do this, the dried tomatoes can be turned into tomato paste, ketchup, sauces and used as ingredients for other dishes. A few years back we discovered that if we wash tomatoes and put 3-4 in a snack size freezer bag, when they come out of the freezer the skins wash off very easily and we have one to four tomatoes to cook with. They still have their summer flavour and are yummy. We currently have enough freezer space to do this and it is a habit so we didn't dry any. I can see doing some next summer so that it would be easy to make our own tomato paste or ketchup.

Here is my version of the economics. Taking our initial discovery of blueberries selling 250g at $8.00, we made 10 baggies that would have cost us $80.00 over the winter. The cost of the blueberries was $9.00 for two pints and the electricity and labour could be costed at $10.00.

The way I figure it $100 +$9.00+$10.00-$80.00=$39.00 currently the cost of the dehydrator.

Continuing in this line of economic rationalizing
onions, celery and pears $11.50+$10.00 labour and electricity = $21.50 + $39.00 (dehydrator) = $60.50 15 baggies of dried goods at $3.00 each = $45.00

$60.50-$45.00 = $15.50

This is all the dehydrator has cost us. Maybe I will buy some tomatoes just to get this equation to zero or even a profit.

1 comment:

  1. At over a dollar an ounce retail, making a batch of beef jerky using tenderized, marinated strips of flank steak (the cheap stuff) would, depending somewhat on the price of the beef, probably be the tipping point whereat the dehydrator paid for itself; and would also be a great stocking stuffer for your son :)