My Deck Is My Dehydrator

Guess who’s back!

I know: it’s been a long time, and I’d apologize for my absence, but everybody needs breaks sometimes, including those of us who work from home and appear to live a life of ease (hint: if you live where you work, you never, ever, ever clock out). But now I’ve had a bit of a break, and I’ve returned all full of things to talk about.

So as with most conversations between people who haven’t seen each other in a while, we’ll start with the weather: it’s hot. Really, really hot. Ludicrously hot. Big chunks of the country have been declared natural disasters, on account of all the hot and drought and similar nonsense, and for the record, buffaloes are not huge fans of the heat. So I’ve mostly been keeping my head down; but I’ve also been doing a lot of reading and research about how to become less dependent on the grocery store and how to see to it that we have delicious food through the winter months without relying on people who import produce from, like, Timbuktu.

The most common answer: canning. “Make preserves!”, they say, “and pickles and jellies and salsas! Make stews and put it up in jars! Heck, just blanch some veggies and put that in jars!”

To them, I say: I hear you, and I agree with you, and I love the theories and principles you are espousing, and oh my god please tell me you are not asking me to boil giant vats of water in my already-slightly-too-warm kitchen for hours at a time.

So we are not doing any canning this year at the Buffalo Moon Ranch, because hahahahaha no. I did buy a few books on canning, and have started looking into the prices of canning supplies, and perhaps next year will be the year of Canning All the Things; but this year it’s just too hot even to think about it, so we’re going with plan B: dehydrating.

Before you ask, no, I do not have a dehydrator. And no, I am not using my oven, because this strikes me as being slightly counterproductive when the goal is to avoid having any more hot things in our house than is strictly necessary.

But you know what’s already hot, which we complain about pretty much daily and about which there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that we can do?

The great outdoors, that’s what. There’s this giant ball of flaming doom that passes overhead every day, beating the moisture out of everything upon whom its fiery gaze rests…and I have conquered it and made it my servant! Bwahahahaha! Kneel before Zod!

Ok, that’s perhaps a bit overwrought; but the bottom line is still the same: if the sun is going to try to destroy me slowly with unreasonably warm temperatures and the inability to keep a garden alive (“plant in the sun”, they said, “plants will grow there”. Uh-huh.), then the least it can do is help me put some food up for the winter.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been asking it to do, and it has been working like a charm. I’ve basically converted our deck into a giant dehydrator, and while it’s true that it takes longer than the thing you plug into the wall, this  method costs exactly zero dollars in utilities, looks oddly intriguing on the deck, and really, what else am I going to do on the deck when it’s 110 degrees out? Host pants-off dance-offs?

For those who’d like to play along at home, here’s everything you need to know about solar dehydrating:

1. Wake up to discover the weatherman is calling for a string of 100+-degree days. Curse softly.

2. Prepare fruits/veggies per the handy instructions you can find all over the interwebs. Seriously, just Google “sun drying [insert name of fruit or veggie here]”, then sit back and let the instructions roll in.

3. Place prepared fruits/veggies on trays (I’ve used drying racks, cookie sheets, and if these cherries don’t finish drying before the zucchini starts looking forlorn, I’m going to resort to the old “heavy cardboard, covered in foil, with holes punched in it” trick), and cover with cheesecloth to keep out the bugs.

4. Put trays in sun. You may have to keep half an eye on them through the day, because, y’know, the sun moves and stuff.

5. Go back inside for the rest of the day. Come back once the sun goes down. If your food is totally dry (in some cases this means “crispy”; in others, it means “leathery”; your handy Google searches will tell you what to look for. Basically, I use the rule that if you can squeeze it and no juice gets on your hands, then you’re good to go), bring it in and put it in zip-top bags or jars or your belly. If it needs more time, stash it someplace where the pets won’t get it, and put it back outside tomorrow morning. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s seriously that easy, and you can absolutely do this. Cut food up; put it on something that isn’t the ground; leave it outside until it’s dry, bringing it in overnight so the dew doesn’t set you back and the raccoons don’t start seeing your house as a nice buffet…. And that’s it! That’s really it. As with all things, if I can do this, you can totally do this.

So go! Hit your farmers market this weekend, stock up on whatever looks delicious, then come home and make the rarkin’ flarkin’ rootin’ tootin’ sun do all the heavy lifting for you. Come wintertime, when everybody else is eating fruit sprayed with a thousand gallons of chemicals and/or dehydrated with sugar added (really, now, who adds sugar to fruit? Stoopid food industry), you’ll be able to sit back and have a good laugh. And some nice apple rings. Which reminds me: I forgot to sprinkle the apple pie spice on this batch. Guess I’ll just have to make another. Drat!

To get you started, here’s a nice discussion of how to dehydrate apples. Mmm, apple rings!

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4 Comments

Filed under General Musings and Meanderings, Play Nicely

4 responses to “My Deck Is My Dehydrator

  1. Tess

    REALLY? I love this. It doesn’t rot or get weird or mushy? My brains are processing this out loud. Obviously, we have enough ridiculous sun in OK – I could have been doing this for the past month and a half of 100 plus temps! Brilliant! We have a pear tree growing in the yard – I should have bushels of pears in 2 months….and if it works, I will bring you some. 🙂 Thank you!

    • Well, the zucchini got extremely weird and mushy (and then glued itself to the pan), so if you’re going for “chewy thing you can add to stews later”, then it’s great…but if you’re shooting for “nice crisp things kinda like chips”, then your best bet there is going to be a dehydrator or oven. Booooo.

      However, the cherries, pears, and apples all turned out beautifully! No weirdness (aside from a “sun-dried” taste, roughly akin to the smell of line-dried sheets), no mushiness, no nothin’. And yay for more pears! I was using wee bitty Asian pears, so I’ve got, like, 2 cups. lol

      • Tess

        Awesome.

        Is the leather consistency still indicative of the food’s safety (kind of like jerky)? I think about leaving something out to “rot” (not drying in the sun), and I wouldn’t want to eat it. I’m totally curious about this…..and seeing as we’ve been trained to think that this method is “unsafe” (no refrigeration, etc), I’m trying to get my brains around the flip.

        I think my pear tree is a Comice, but I’m not sure quite yet…waiting till they ripen a bit more in order to identify them. Might also be a Seckel. I think the dehydrating thing is definitely worth a shot at the least! 🙂

      • Oh, I use the word “leathery” just so you have a texture idea to compare it to. You can also go with “raisin-y”, if that makes you feel happier. 🙂

        And yep, it’s totally safe (we have now eaten a couple handfuls of cherries, some of the apple rings, and a few pear nibbles with exactly zero ill effects except for a mild frustration that we have to save ’em for the winter and can’t eat ’em all right now). Whether we remember it or not, we know instinctively when something has “gone bad” versus just “dried out”…so if you set the food outside for a few days and come back to find it all squishy and stinky and weird with bugs all in it, then it’s bad. But if it’s just dry, then it’s good to go–just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t go bad later on. Y’know, like you would with anything in the pantry (mold = bad ; slight stickiness = totally ok). And remember, people buy dried fruits (including sun-dried tomatoes) at the store all the time; the only difference here is that they cost less and aren’t sprayed with weird chemicals–or, god help us, have sugar added. Seriously, who the heck adds sugar to fruit?!? *eyeroll*

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