About ten years ago, I had read an article about dehydrating food. Mind you, at this point I was living in the middle of an upscale suburb in what was known as the ugliest house in the neighborhood. I have barely any usable yard, my landlord was an ass, and nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, would grow in that garden.
I was in love with the idea of homesteading and food storage even at that point, and I have never seen a dehydrator. I just thought that was an awesome way to store food and dry stuff. I think at that point I thought more herbs, which I was trying to grow in the house, but I still loved the idea. Then I saw the price of the damn things. Yikes.
I didn’t know there was anything but a round-style tray dehydrator, but $60 at that point was enough to scare me out of the idea of getting one in my young life. I wanted a gadget, but I was broke as hell and couldn’t justify it.
Then I moved into my own home a couple of years later and was still pondering the dehydrating idea. Sounded so cool. Dry your own food! Thousands of thoughts crept up in my head from whether or not that food was anything like the dried stuff in the stores to how the hell you would make your own jerky. It was at this point something I had put on my “to do” list to learn, and search for a deal, but nothing I was terribly serious about. My garden was still small and we were eating everything from it. I had nothing but the basic tomatoes and maybe a few cucumbers.
That winter I went to Kmart. I don’t even remember what I was there for, mind you. I went to the evil cooking gadget aisle, at that point full of Martha Stewart crap. (Mind you, this was before her great fall.) And there I saw it. One of those circular dehydrators with the trays. For $11 on clearance. I snagged it so fast I think the box dissipated in mid air.
I dried damn near everything in that thing. Boy did it get it’s use. It lasted me through a couple of growing seasons as my garden expanded, made me dried herbs and apples and other things. Some came out awesome. Some sucked. But it lasted quite a few years before the trays started falling apart and it started to break down a bit.
It was a weird style one, even for a round one. Instead of the heat source being on the top it was on the bottom and I hadn’t mastered the art of rotating trays. Ok I never mastered that art because I’m lazy. I had bought another “spare” one when they were on clearance there for the extra trays and ended up using the spare heating part too.
I finally, about 3 years ago, broke down and bought a new dehydrator. Just a nesco, which if you can believe it was a step up. I started to master jerky. But since I’m a lazy ass I never rotated the trays. It had a nice little temperature control which was SUPER fancy compared to the one I had had before, which had no such thing. I kinda just had to guess.
I found myself at this point frustrated by the thing. It was a bitch to store, and since the heating element was on the top, it didn’t really heat even so the temperature thing was still kind of a guess. My stuff ALWAYS came out crispy, not “bendy” like some stuff was supposed to be (jerky included). If I didn’t want to stay home all day and rotate and check it I was screwed.
When you become comfortable with something, your standards go up. That’s why to this day I recommend anyone who wants to get into drying food to try a crappy one first. If it sticks, and it’s something you like, you can always upgrade. You can’t “downgrade” once you’ve spent a million dollars on something.
Nonetheless, my frustrating with the Nesco grew. It worked fine enough for what it was but the trays were breaking, a bitch to wash, even the glory of the jerky gun wasn’t enough for me to like my new little purchase. But I dealt with it. What could you do?
Then I started gawking at the wonders of the stand up, pull out, box type dehydrators. Everyone who dries knows what the Excalibur is. They also know the kind of investment it is. I daydreamed. I pondered. I couldn’t justify 300 for the size I needed, but that didn’t stop me from wanting it.
Then one day at Cabella’s a few months ago I noticed they had a rip off version of it. 10 trays and digital to boot. The reviews weren’t bad, they weren’t as good as the Excalibur, but they were pretty good. One day it would be mine, oh yes.
So this Christmas we were working on a serious budget. There was so much going on this year, so much tragedy, loss, emergencies, so many things to be exhausted over that by the time I got to Christmas I was damn well exhausted myself. I hate when that happens.
I opened all my gifts, happier than a pig in crap, and Mr. Super said to me “Oh, we forgot one!” and handed me a book sized wrapped up gift. I opened it. It was the Dehydrator Cookbook I had asked for. YAY! Finally! A cookbook about nothing but dried foods! I was anxious to get started.
Then he said “We’ve got one more for you up here.” My first thought was not honestly OH! The dehydrator I wanted. My first thought was “Dear God please don’t let it be something living. I don’t need more pets!” (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my pets, but at this point sheer exhaustion had taken over).
And upstairs was sitting a huge wrapped box. I knew immediately. I was both elated and pissed that they had spent that much. The Texan, Mr. B and Mr. Super were standing in anticipation as I opened it. I didn’t disappoint. I almost crapped my pants. The thing is bigger than me. No sh#t. I actually have to stand on a step stool to program the thermostat and timer (YES! IT HAS BOTH!) when it’s sitting on the counter.
I couldn’t WAIT. I was itching to use it. But I knew I still had so much to do so I stared at it. I played with the drawers. OH! The glory of having a dehydrator that had a BACK heating element AND digital temperature control AND a timer. I was ear to ear grinning.
It’s only been now that I’ve been able to kind of play with it, and not much even then. I just grabbed some mushrooms and green onions and half an onion out of the fridge and started chopping.
Now, nearly all dehydrator books will tell you to use the most primo produce ever to dry. Hogwash and bullcrap. Mary Bell, dehydrator queen, will even tell you that produce that’s starting to go, that might not be the freshest, sometimes make the best dried. I’m not saying that crappy, molded, totally wilted produce should be dried. No. There’s only a certain point at which it can be saved. But I will tell you that those mushrooms were started to get a little less firm and those green onions were starting to go wilty but they did fine. Look at the glory!
Who the hell knows the difference once the green onions are dried (use them like chives) if they’d gone wilted before you dried them? No one. They weren’t moldy or nasty, just not firm any more. Ditto on celery. If you wanted to rehydrate them, they might not be the greatest, and you probably don’t want to eat them fresh. But I know I’ve used celery that’s gone a bit bendy in stews and soups, and there’s no reason to toss them out of the running for dehydration for that same reason.
As I speak right now, there’s trays and trays of apples dehydrating in it. I bought them from the bruised rack at the grocery store for super cheap. I peeled them (you don’t have to), cored and sliced them (all with the aid of my handy dandy apple peeler which is another purchase I’ll NEVER regret). I didn’t dip them or treat them cause really? You don’t have to. That’s just appearance. Laid them on the racks and sprinkled cinnamon on them. Who the hell wouldn’t want to eat that? With the whole diabetes thing I’ve got to be careful with dried fruit, but it’s better than somethings I could eat and they definitely do something for the sweet cravings.
So here is the big bad boy so you can be jealous
Here’s the veggies from the fridge I was cutting up to test this thing out
And them all laid out pretty like. I’ve been using the screen from my old dehydrator because this one didn’t come with screens.
And of course some apple slices
And in roughly 6 hours I had this
This dehydrator dries much more evenly and slower than my last one. You might think slower is worse, but it’s not. It means it’s maintaining the correct temperture I set it at instead of cooking the crap out of the food and making it crunchy. My mushrooms were nice and dry, but not like mushroom CHIPS. Ditto on the apples. Dry but still a bit flexible, I wasn’t going to do apple chips this time.
So if you are a seasoned “drier” then you might want to make the jump to this kind of bad boy because it’s so worth it. Otherwise if you are just starting out, one of the round cheapy ones should do you just fine. Look at it as a test for your love of drying: if you can deal with those annoying POS’s then you know it’s for you.