Adventures in Dehydrating – Part 2

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My mise en place – fruit, sharp knives (chef’s and paring) and a ruler.

For the big Fruit Experiment, I decided to start easy, with apples and bananas.  I did more reading on the topic and realized I’d need some kind of anti-browning agent for the apples.  I knew I could use lemon juice, and some recipes called for dipping the apple slices into a combination of honey and water, but I decided to use a powdered ascorbic acid mixture, which, I was assured by my online research, was readily available in supermarkets.  Off I went to the local mega-grocery, only to discover that canning supplies, so plentiful two weeks ago, had been shunted aside to make way for Halloween candy and were nowhere to be found.  I finally asked at the desk; a clerk was dispatched and turned up a few minutes later with what he assured me was the one and only jar of ascorbic acid mixture left in the store.  With it, two bright yellow bananas and a pair of lovely organic Gala apples, I went back home and started the second experiment.

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The magic formula.

I read over the section on fruit dehydrating in my Nesco manual and then set to work.  First order of business was to make the ascorbic acid dip for the apples; there was nothing in the manual about the proportion of water to acid mix in the manual, and indeed, nothing on the acid container itself, but I found the info online and wrote it on the jar so I’d always have it.

I made my anti-browning bath and set it aside, then peeled the apples.  According to the Nesco’s manual, the optimum width for apple slices is 3/8 of an inch, hence the ruler.  (Lest you think I am so anal that I measured each and every slice, let me assure you that the ruler was only to check the width of that first cut.)  I sliced up the apples and tossed them into their little bath.  While they had a little soak (about 5 minutes), I peeled and sliced the bananas. Two large bananas filled two racks; two large apples filled three racks, so the Nesco was at full capacity when I started it up.

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Apples, bathed and ready to dehydrate.

The apples were done in roughly five hours; the bananas took an hour or two more.  Because the pieces were so uniform, it was a little less painstaking than drying the tomatoes, which can vary widely in moisture content and shape.  The dried fruit makes a fairly dull snack, though.  All I did was dry them – I didn’t add any sweetening or seasoning or oil or anything – and while they were tasty enough, there’s a certain lingering chewiness to the dried fruit that is okay in small doses, but not conducive to cries of delight.  I haven’t tried rehydrating them yet; I want to do more research into other drying recipes.

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Kale, oiled and ready for drying.

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Kale, après-hydrator.

Next up was kale.  I like kale chips (but for their tendency to leave tiny green bits clinging to one’s teeth, they’d be a perfect snack) and I’ve made them in the oven, so I was eager to try them out.  I found a recipe that called for mixing a bunch of washed, dried and torn kale with two tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of sea salt and a quarter teaspoon of smoked paprika.  It didn’t seem like a lot of seasoning for so much kale.  The kale was done in about four hours and I was glad I’d resisted the urge to add more seasoning; some leaves were overly salty.  I wasn’t really happy with the results of that recipe – the dried kale has a sort of dull, metallic tang and after storage, it lost some of its crispness.  I used red kale for the recipe and am wondering if curly kale might be a better choice.  I’m not ready to give up on kale in the dehydrator, but I’m definitely going to look for other recipes.

Yesterday I dehydrated a second batch of tomatoes, this time using only a little kosher salt, oregano and basil.  The results were really nice: beautiful color and a nice, bright flavor.  John is lobbying for me to try making jerky next, but I’m feeling a little less bold about that, as I know there are more steps involved and a greater possibility of food poisoning.  There are still other fruits and vegetables to dry, as well as herbs; I planted a eucalyptus this summer and the plant is nearly five feet tall, so I may try drying that as well.  I’ll keep you posted!

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