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Canning it: The magic of dried food

May 16, 2011 |  1:55 pm

Picture of dried beans

If you look around your kitchen at what food is fresh and what food is preserved you might be surprised. Everything in the freezer is preserved, as is everything in a can. A bag of beans, fruit leather rolls, that saucisson sec and the chile ristra are all preserved by dehydration.

Dehydration is really the easiest and most practical preservation technique for the home cook. Removing water to less than 20% by volume creates a product that is shelf-stable so that mold and bacteria have nothing to latch on to. 

Dehydrate your garden beans by leaving them on the stalk. When they’re completely dried and make a rattling sound when shaken, harvest and shell and they’ll last in a cool dry place for up to a few years. You can tie herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme in a bunch, hang upside down and in less than a week they’ll be ready to use or put into jars.

Try using a clean window screen laid over a few cinder blocks as a drying rack. Put figs or washed Roma tomatoes on the screen, leave them out for a few very warm days (covered with a net if you are worried about birds)and they will be nicely sun-dried. The end result should be pliable but not brittle. That’s one of the beauties of living in Southern California; we have the ideal climate for sun-drying. 

There are other ways to dehydrate without investing in extra tools. Lay out vegetables in a single layer on a rack and place it in the oven -- set as low as it can be -- and walk away for several hours. Check and turn periodically. This is a fantastic method for grapes, chiles and apple slices. Peels and odd scraps of carrots and onions can be dried in the oven, then ground and used as a seasoning. Oven-dried, pitted black olives are an incredible addition to a cheese plate.

When dehydrating, use quality produce without bruises or blemishes. If there is damage on your fruit or vegetables you’re more likely to end up with spoiled food.

Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County. The Master Food Preservers can be found on Facebook.

-- Rachael Narins

Photo credit: Rachael Narins

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