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Preserve garden harvests with drying methods

Food, by its nature, begins to spoil as soon as it is harvested. Our early ancestors dried herbs and produce in the sun. Drying was simple,

and preserving food was essential for survival. Today, drying is still essential for a healthy and diverse diet.

Thanks to modern methods, drying is even easier than it has ever been. Anyone can dry herbs and produce from home.

Preparation is key to successfully drying herbs and produce. Choose items that are ripe, free of disease and have only minor blemishes.

Herbs do not require much preparation. Leaves can be removed from the stems and laid without overlapping to dry.

Produce that is cut into small, evenly sliced pieces dry best. Lighter-colored produce tends to brown quickly. Soak them in vitamin C, lemon juice or fruit juice. Oftentimes, dehydrators and racks come with booklets that give pretreatment methods, instructions and drying times for each type of fruit or vegetable you wish to dry.

In regions where humidity is high or where weather is problematic, sun drying may not be ideal (like here in the Mahoning Valley). Other methods of drying can be done in home with minimal effort and cost.

Herbs and produce can be dried by bundling or stringing and hanging in an area of the home such as a closet, spare room, dining room, kitchen or garage.

Another option is rack drying. Lay pieces or leaves out flat on each level of the rack. Some racks can be hung and are collapsible for easy storage when not in use.

For those who prefer a faster method of drying, use a dehydrator, microwave or oven. Dehydrators are like racks and have many levels but require electricity for heating them to the appropriate temperature.

Ovens are the fastest way to dry; however, it is important to take extreme caution and consult specific oven instructions for drying. Consider oven drying only if other methods are not available.

Most herbs dry rather well. Basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley and sage are all great herbs to begin with. Some fruits dry much better than others. Apples, apricots, figs, peaches, pears and bananas are all great choices. Among the vegetables, sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, carrots onions, and peas all dry well.

Dried herbs and produce do not take up as much space as other forms of preservation. Store dried herbs and produce in airtight glass jars or tins in a cool dry place. Dried herbs and produce can be used for cooking, baking and made into delicious toppings such as red pepper flakes (dried peppers) or dried fruits in cereal. Dried produce makes wonderful on the go snacks. The ease and affordability of drying herbs and produce is well worth giving it a try.

It is of utmost importance to follow guidance from experts when dealing with preserving food. Food safety guidelines must be followed to ensure the food is safe to consume when completed. Complete details and procedures can be found at the two links below:

For more information on drying herbs, go to http://go.osu.edu/dryingherbs;

For details and methods of drying fruits and vegetables, go to http://go.osu.edu/dryfruitveg.

Flowers- Green is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer intern.

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