Drying Foods

I am finding more and more that with a reducing family that dried foods are excellent for knocking up meals with not a lot in the larder.

Don’t get me wrong, but my daughter eats at Lycee in the day, so we have an evening meal together, and we are en famille on the weekends. - If I’m not careful, things can linger around longer than they should and then are past their best.

I am using the bottom oven of the Aga at the moment, and leaving the door ajar to let the air circulate.

I am doing mushrooms which is one of my favourite ways of cutting down on waste - if I have a few left over I slice them and dry them to be used at a later date.

I am also having a go at strawberries - I love the cereals with the dried red fruits, but they are quite expensive to buy here.

I have thinly sliced them up and drying them in the same way.

I hope to have a go with pears, cherries , plums and apricots later in the year.

I have dried tomotoes in a very low oven overnight to wonderful effect but as yet that has been the extent of my drying adventures. If anyone is interested I have put some great recipe links on the March Newsletter for Cardamome&Compagnie using the wonders of dried fruit in sweet and savoury dishes. I would love to know your thoughts.


Peas and beans are super easy to dry to - in our area you can buy two types of white beans - cocos, and mojettes, a bit like a cannellini bean - they are sold in huge sacks and are semi dried on the plant - dead easy to dry and then you have your very own pulses - I have done it with barlotti beans that I bought from Franchi Seeds in Italy.
Peas, likewise dry very easily

Great idea about the celery - I use celery salt a lot, so it would be good to make my own.
I did read that peppers need to be blanched, but chillies can be done whole, as they are.
It’s a bit like bottling, Sarah - I was having three sets of info from three different French neighbours - it can be confusing at times.

I first learnt about dehydrating from the Cottage Smallholder who I think has a basic model which seems to be on practically all the time! I did a bit of research and, typically, was overwhelmed by the contradictory reviews and advice so didn’t give it another thought until I saw my “Severin” in the local garden centre. Not the best way to buy, I know, but I’ve been really pleased with it. It’s a German make, I think, very simple, so no faffing with thermostats. It’s got 5 trays with two stacking heights so it’s good for reasonably chunky tomatoes. I’ve never weighed the items before drying them but I’d guess I get more than a kilo of tomatoes on the five trays. It works best if you can rotate the trays from time to time.

I do tomatoes overnight (cheap rate electricity) and they need that much to get them well and truly leathery (thanks for the great tip about rehydrating, Helen), but tend to keep a closer eye on smaller, more delicate things like herbs and mirabelles. Grapes dry really quickly. My first batch reduced to practically nothing in no time - not much good for muesli, but they were like fruity boiled sweets, so none were wasted! I recently reduced a huge head of celery to a jam-jar’s worth - usually exactly the sort of thing which lurks in the bottom of the 'fridge after using a couple of sticks - and the result is great for sprinkling in casseroles. As Helen says, the flavours definitely intensify on drying.

Isn’t the dried meat called Biltong? I am tempted to try tuna, as the Spanish sell dried tuna loin (can’t remember the name) which is served in wafer thin slices on salads etc.
How would you eat the meat?
Just got my strawberries out and they were a big success.

I have a food dehydrator and love drying foods. I never thought of cutting down on waste by drying, bravo! I’m going to take your lead. I especially like to dry fruits, for the kind in the store have sugar added!? As if they needed any. I like to dry tomatoes with a bit of homemade pesto on them and leave them a bit moist. They make great gateau apéritif. On another note, I hope your not a vegetarian and find this next bit offensive, but I have used the dehydrator to dry meats as well. I find that dried meats and fish one finds in the stores have that ‘processed’ feel/taste to them. I either buy marinated meats, or marinate them myself, then cut them into strips and voilà. Over here in California it’s easy to find carne asada, (skirt steak marinated in orange juice, hot chili peppers and onions). A sort of beef jerky, delicious! I bet that over there you could find some sort of Spanish, Portuguese, or Eastern European marinated meats/fish in the Grand Surface. Please let me know if you find anything interesting, for I plan to live there in France one day with my French husband. Happy drying!

I think that’s right.
Where the confusion lies with sun dried tomatoes (I think) is as follows
When they are “leathery” they are "done"
If you are going to put them in oil, they need to by hydrated with boiling water, and drained before theyare placed into oil - if not, the oil will not rehydrate them - I have done this, to my cost!
I have heard the “leathery” term often, so you must be doing something right!
Also, some things dry before others, so a watchful eye to extract the “done” items is also key.
Must go and check my strawberries!

An interesting thread, thanks Helen. I haven’t thought of drying recently although I did do a lot of sun-dried tomatoes one year when humidity levels were very low. The greatest problem was knowing when to stop. Some of them got very leathery.

There is another reason I like dried fruits and veg.
Strange as it may sound, you extract the water, and when you re-hydrate them, you have a much more concentrated flavour.
Mushrooms and plums would be good examples of this.
So, there are many upsides to drying

  1. No waste from the garden
  2. Compact to store.
  3. Very attractive in jars around the kitchen
  4. Great as a stand-by
  5. Concentration of flavours
  6. Highly nutritious
    Agree about the price Jacqueline - they are either small or expensive as you say - an oven on low, propped open to keep the temperature low will do just as well - microwaving on defrost is another method as well.

I have the book Preserved by Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler - they dabble in all sorts in it, so it is a good book to buy to have on the kitchen shelf.

I seriously thought about getting an electric food dehydrator, but they are either very, very expensive, or have lots of bad reviews. Wish I had an Aga! I did do cherries (stoned and halved) last year using a very low electric oven but as it is a microwave/grill/oven combo it isn’t very big. They worked really well and were delicious, so will hopefully do more this year. My large gas oven is either off or very hot, so not too useful.

Sarah please can you let me know which dehydrator you have, thanks.

Yes, I saw one locally not so long back.
As the Aga is on all the time I have resisted buying it!
A drying cabinet can be made with s simple box and domestic light bulb as well.
If I invest, I think I will go for a vacuum sealer - I think it will be ideal when drying fruit such as pears and apricots - no air, no opportunity for the food to spoil.
I usually put the sun dried tomatoes in oil as a bit of an insurance against them spoiling too.
I am wondering if grapes may be a possibility as well - we have loads of eating grapes in the garden so I’ll try that as well.
I think the secret is a low, not too high constant dry temperature, which is why a dehydrator is such a boon to the kitchen.
How much can you do at one Sarah?

one of the best things I did last year was buy a dehydrator - nothing fancy, just a simple drying unit with a few trays. Now we’re enjoying our own dried tomatoes, grapes, mirabelles, apples (great for home-made muesli as I find the choice of dried fruit here rather limited). I also dry herbs and celery works very well (great if you’ve got a bit left over, as you say). And it all takes up so little room in the cupboard.