It was so good for so long, but now it's over. It's done. As much as you might want more, you know it is time to say good bye. No, it's not a romantic break-up. It's the end of the growing season for many gardeners. But wait! Some of what was so good can be saved (from your garden, your romance is another story). Learn how to preserve your fresh garden bounty by dehydrating and freezing fruit and vegetables.
Of all the food preservation methods, dehydrating is the easiest. It works by removing moisture and thereby making food safe for long term storage. The only "skill" you need is chopping. There are two ways to dehydrate: with a dehydrator or using an oven set at a low temperature. For most home cooks the dehydrator is the preferred method because it leaves your oven free for other baking.
Most vegetables are good candidates for dehydrating. What vegetables you choose to dehydrate will be determined by what you have extras of and how you intend to use them. Dehydrated tomatoes are great in pasta sauces. Dehydrated peas and green beans are nice additions to soups. Dehydrated onions and bell peppers are lovely in dips.
A dehydrator is an electric appliance that is set to low temperatures to dehydrate fruits, vegetables, herbs, or meat. It has trays that you load with your produce.
To dehydrate vegetables using a dehydrator chop them up into small pieces (one inch or smaller). Place them on the tray(s) of your dehydrator leaving space between each piece so they dehydrate evenly and don't stick together. Your dehydrator will come with a guide to tell you how long and at what temperature to dry each vegetable. You may also find this guide useful. Generally speaking, vegetables put in a dehydrator after dinner will be dried by breakfast the next day.
To dehydrate using an oven, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the chopped veggies pieces (one inch or smaller) on the parchment paper being sue to leave a small space between each piece. Set your oven as low as it will go (between 150-200 degrees Fahrenheit). Place your veggies on the sheet in the oven. Drying time will depend on the vegetable. Check to see how your veggies are doing after four hours to determine if more time is required. You will know your veggies are dehydrated when they are shrunken, wrinkled, and only a bit bendable.
Again, which fruits you dehydrate will be determined by what you have the most of and how you choose to use them. Dehydrate fruits using the same method as vegetables. Dehydrated fruits make great snacks--think apples, bananas, and mangoes. Fruit purees can be spread in a thin layer and dehydrated to make fruit leather that kids will love.
To bring dehydrated fruits and veggies to life let them sit in a room temperature bowl of water. Dried vegetables can also be ground in a mortar and pestle to make powders.
If dehydrating is the easiest food preservation method then freezing comes in a close second. One great benefit of freezing fruit and vegetables is that it maintains the nutritional content of the fruit or veggie.
The only "trick" to freezing vegetables is that you need to blanch them before freezing. This means that the veggies need a quick bath in boiling water or steam and then a rinse in cold water. You will find this chart helpful to know how long to blanch each type of veggie.
Once the veggies are blanched place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper making sure to leave space between each piece. Freeze for 24 hours, remove from freezer and place in a freezer-proof container. In the freezer most veggies will last for a few months.
Berries, cherries, and stone fruit (cut up into bite sized pieces) are also great candidates for freezing. Unlike veggies, no blanching is required for fruit. Simply line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the fruit pieces on the sheet in a single layer with space between each piece. Freeze for 24 hours and then place frozen fruit pieces in an air tight container and return to the freezer.
Use frozen fruit in smoothies and pancakes or other baked items.
Preserving your garden's bounty allows you to use each fruit or vegetable and avoid waste. It also allows you to taste the flavors of summer when long, sunny days are only a memory.
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