Please note: This article was originally written for The Survival Woman’s December Newsletter at backdoorsurvival.com. I strongly encourage you to visit her wonderful site and definitely sign-up for the newsletter.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve dehydrated anything (many months, in fact) so I figured I would pick up some broccoli and carrots while at Walmart the other day. This time I decided to dehydrate 16 pounds of broccoli and 8 pounds of carrots. I choose these numbers because I know how much of each that I can dehydrate at any one time. Since I have a nine tray Excalibur dehydrator I can generally fit one pound of carrots per tray (with a little leftover to fit on the ninth tray) and two pounds of broccoli per tray (with one major problem).
I typically buy one pound bags for one dollar each; this time, however, I choose to buy two pound bags of cut broccoli, which turned out to be a disappointment because a majority of the bag was cut stems and not broccoli heads. In the future I’ll stick with what I know and buy one pound bags. I should point out that normally you would need to cut and blanch vegetables that you’re going to dehydrate BUT if you buy frozen vegetables this is already done for you, which makes dehydrating awfully attractive because all I ever have to do is open the bag and spread out the contents for dehydrating. I learned this fact from a very cool website called Dehydrate 2 Store.
I started with the broccoli. Here’s what it looked like when spread out on a tray (click on image to enlarge):
It might be hard to tell but right now it’s way too crowded to dehydrate properly. Fortunately, a few hours into dehydrating and space begins to form between the pieces, which allows for much better air movement.
Here’s what it looks like when 8 pounds of broccoli are placed in the dehydrator (click on image to enlarge):
This also happens to be the problem I had with the bags of broccoli I bought. It’s hard to tell from the picture but the pieces of broccoli are very large, so much so that they won’t fit if the trays are placed one atop the other like they’re supposed to be… that’s not good. My plan was to spread out the trays to every other slot and dehydrate down the broccoli to something more manageable. In fact, I had to cut down many of the pieces after four or five hours of dehydrating because I felt they were simply too thick to dehydrate correctly. I’ve had this happen to carrots in the past. If the broccoli (or anything you’re dehydrating) is too thick it will never dehydrate due to a problem called “case hardening” which essentially traps moisture inside. You can tell this is a problem because the vegetables are flexible (they’re supposed to snap) when broken in two.
Here’s what the broccoli looks like from start to finish (click on image to enlarge):
It still amazes me how much smaller they get when dehydrated. FYI, I let them dehydrate for about 20 hours total at 110 degrees. I probably didn’t need to take this long but I usually get started on it during the day and let it dehydrate overnight and that often turns out to be 18-20 hours. I also prefer a lower temperature which (I think) helps avoid case hardening. Normally, I can put 8 pounds of broccoli once dehydrated into two quart sized mason jars but since this cut broccoli was more stems than heads 8 pounds fit into about 1 and 1/3 mason jars. After dehydrating the other 8 pounds of broccoli (in my second batch) I was able to easily put the entire 16 pounds of cut broccoli into 3 mason jars.
The carrots were much simpler. Because they weren’t ridiculously large, I was able to place all 8 pounds of carrots into the dehydrator at the same time and do only one batch of carrots. Here’s what they look like before and after (click on image to enlarge):
The carrots dehydrate down almost as much as the broccoli. In this case, I’m able to put a full 8 pounds of dehydrated carrots into a single quart-sized mason jar! That’s pretty cool.
When I finished dehydrating I placed the vegetables into their respective mason jars and used my Foodsaver (this is the one I use) to create a near vacuum inside the mason jar. It might also be wise to throw in an o2 absorber but I never have done so. Here’s what the foodsaver attachment looks like (click on image to enlarge):
It’s quite easy to use. Just attach the hose to the foodsaver body and the mason jar attachment (you’ll need the correct size for the types of mason jar you’re using – either regular or wide mouth jars) then let the machine do the work. You’re done.
A few tips I’ve learned:
- Ensure your hands are VERY thoroughly cleaned and sanitized (or better yet wear disposable gloves when handling food)
- Let the frozen vegetables thaw for an hour or two to make it easier to spread out and break apart the pieces that have frozen together
- Use lower temperatures and longer drying times to avoid case hardening
- The dehydrator doesn’t dehydrate evenly from front to back or top to bottom so I will purposes rotate and adjust the trays once or twice during the day (say at 3-4 hours in and then 6-8 hours in) to promote more even drying in the beginning
- Test, test, test your vegetables when you think they’re done to ensure they’re NOT rubbery; if they are then dehydrate longer (but it may be that case hardening has already occurred)
- Write the date on the lid in permanent marker when finished so you know what to use first
- Store them without the bands on (they can rust on otherwise) but this usually isn’t a problem because you’re not storing these for decades
- Use the food within a year or two of dehydrating
I hope this helps some of you and encourages you to start dehydrating!