Saturday, July 22, 2006

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!


At 7/28/2006 4:11 PM, Blogger Spicyflower said...

That's awesome. So, here is a dumb question from the pastry chef...what will you do with all the dried produce? What are the best applications of such things?
What items tend work the best when it comes to veggies? A very curious Spicyflower wants to know.

At 7/30/2006 2:28 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Not a dumb question at all! In fact, I expect I will be learning more how to answer that come winter.

Basically, there are two options: soak the dried food in hot water for about half an hour, and then use it in some dish, or toss the dried food into soup (like in the slow cooker). I expect the drying will concentrate the flavor and affect the end result, so to start with, I'll use the recipes in one of my books (either Making and Using Dried Foods or Stocking Up) before I get too experimental.

So far I've had good luck drying peas, carrots, garlic, and cabbage... have just done some kohlrabi, too. Will probably do some onions, and I'm not sure what else.

I expect I'll report more this winter!

At 7/28/2009 10:18 AM, Blogger skoolypal said...

Your pic of your drieds looks So enticing!
Can you share how you did the raspberries? How long did you dry them in your oven? I have been googling info.
We have found a large berry patch on our property, and since I do like to bake with dried fruit I am SO excited!
Thanks! : )

At 7/28/2009 10:30 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Boy oh boy, skoolypal, that's going back a ways since I haven't dried raspberries in a couple of years. These actually got too dry in the oven, so I think I had them in for too long.

Anyway, if you're not using a dehydrator (which is a wonderful piece of equipment to have if you plan on drying a lot), the basics for using your oven are:

1. If a gas oven, using the pilot light should be enough; if using an electric oven, turn the oven down as low as it will go. Ideally, you don't want the temperature over 150 F, so if your oven doesn't go that low, prop the door open slightly by sticking a wooden spoon handle in the gap.

2. Spread your berries on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. That will keep them from sticking.

3. Stir the berries every few hours and check on their moisture content. When they are leathery or just a bit sticky, they should be done. (These were rock hard -- too much!)

4. Store them in a glass jar in a dark, cool cupboard. Check on them regularly the first week or two for signs of mold or other spoilage; if you see any, you have to pitch them all. (I have not had a problem with that so far.)

Far better directions on drying berries can be found in a number of food preservation books (I've reviewed several of them at the Ethicurean, if that helps!).

Good luck, skoolypal!


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