How Dry I Am
One of the challenges I set for myself this year was to learn how to dry produce in order to stock up more for the winter.
Normally, I've just filled my freezer and made the occasional preserves, but I discovered this past winter that that reserve of farm produce only took me into January, leaving me dependent on supermarket food from far away for another four to five months. And with what I know now about local foods, that simply didn't satisfy me.
So I picked up a book on drying foods that gave me lots of clear instructions and good ideas, including recipes for using the dried foods, and away I went.
The first couple of attempts were, shall we say, unimpressive. I neglected to read the entire instructions with my first batch of peas and didn't blanch them before oven-drying, leaving me with a tray of rock-hard blackened pellets of no use to anyone. And my first attempt at air-drying outside left me with a small tray of rotted peas. (Yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds.)
With the damp weather this spring and summer, I turned back to the oven for drying (mainly in the afternoons and evenings) and have since dried peas, raspberries, blueberries, and cabbage along with my usual herbs.
Today I decided to take care of the four fresh bulbs of garlic I bought last week at the farmers' market.
First, the fair Titania indulged her creativity as she peeled the outer layers of skin back from the bulbs, leaving us with a goodly-sized pile of rosy-wrapped cloves.
Then we put two paring knives into action, peeling and slicing the cloves and scattering the garlic on a cookie sheet, letting them dry slowly in a warm oven.
By evening, the garlic slices had shrunk and wrinkled as their moisture evaporated, leaving about half a pint's worth of crisp slices ready for throwing into soups, stock, or sautes come winter.
Drying produce takes surprisingly little effort. Some items require a little prep work ahead of time, whether in blanching or chopping, but once the fruits or vegetables are spread out on the cookie sheets and in the oven, they only need an occasional stir before they're done hours later (sometimes a day or two later). The end result is produce that will keep close to a year and take up comparatively little space in the cupboard (and not weigh as much).
And when I think of how much longer I'll be able to enjoy local foods into the winter, I feel very satisfied that I finally decided to expand my repertoire of techniques to include food drying.
I'm definitely not going to complain about dryness this summer!