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How to Preserve Tomatoes and Apples With a Homemade Solar Food Dryer

I saw dried tomatoes selling for $10/pound at a food coop and thought that price was outrageous. Now that I make and eat my own dried tomatoes, I think they’re priceless.

You can pretty much eat year-round from our small Ohio homestead. Preserving the summer harvest is an important part of doing this, but when I can find a new way of processing food that results in more variety for winter meals, I’mdrying tomatoes especially pleased. Drying apples and preserving tomatoes with a homemade solar food dryer condenses their flavor into incredible winter treats.

We learned to both make and use the food dryer by following Eben Fodor’s excellent directions in his book, The Solar Food Dryer. The body is made from recycled cortec and the hardware bought locally. We ordered the polypropylene screen that the food sits on from the reference given in the book. We didn’t want to risk galvanized metal or aluminum screens interacting with the food.

One thinks of summertime as having long days and the sun high in the sky—perfect for a solar dryer. In reality, the days are getting shorter and the arc of the sun lower by August and September when most fruits ripen. Fortunately, the plans include a built-in light bulb that provides backup electric heat if the day becomes overcast or if the food needs drying into the evening.electric cord and themometer

The one design detail I would change for our latitude is to tilt the dryer a bit more to face the lower arc of the late summer sun. The original angle was calculated by taking our latitude and subtracting 15 degrees. So far, we’ve only use ours in late summer, and have increased the angle by elevating the back legs on two-by-fours. We may soon commit to that angle by shortening the front legs.

A thermometer tells us the internal temperature of the dryer as we rotate it during the day to face the sun. Our goal is to keep the temperature in the 120 to 150 degree range. If it gets too warm, an additional screened vent can be opened as much as necessary.

I make it sound as if we’re standing by the dryer monitoring and adjusting its progress throughout the day. In reality, the homestead’s too busy for that, but the dryer does well with two or three adjustments during the day as we’re walking through the backyard doing other projects. It wouldn’t work, however, to put it out in the morning and leave for work until late in the day. It needs help in following the sun.

Preparation of the food for drying is pretty fast and easy. I prepare the tomatoes by giving them a minute or two in boiling water so they’ll peel easily, and then slicing them as uniformly as possible. I’ve even dried paste tomatoes by just halving them. It’s amazing how small and intensely flavored they become when most of their water is gone.

Preparing the apples for drying is easy and fun if you have a manual apple peeler-slicer-corer. This even gives you slices of equal thickness. The apple slices require no treatment to keep them from discoloring—the drying results in a slightly darker color anyway.apple peeler-slicer-corer

I judge when it’s time to take the food out of the dryer by making sure it’s beyond the sticky stage, still a bit leathery (a good excuse to taste-test!) but not brittle. Then I put it immediately in a container where it won’t re-hydrate in the humid summer air. Glass jars with tight lids are a nice option, but need to be kept in a cool place. I sometimes freeze the fruit indried apples labeled plastic bags, though I’m trying to wean off plastics.

There are books that give recipes for making “fruit leathers” when drying, but I really dislike adding sugar to food that tastes so great with just its own fructose. I dry the apples and tomatoes plain, and I often savor them as “plain” winter treats. However, these dried tomatoes are great in pasta or soups, and the apples add incredible flavor to even vegetable dishes.

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Dehydrated Food versus Freeze Dried Food

dehydrated-or-freeze-dried

Are you curious to know the basic differences between dehydrated food and freeze dried food?

Lots of preparedness-minded people who have a so called ‘deep pantry’ and will often have a variety of foods for longer term storage including dehydrated foods and freeze dried foods.

Here are the basics regarding each process:

 

DEHYDRATED FOOD

Dehydration is the process of removing water from a substance, in this case – food. Dehydrated foods have much of their water content removed.

Many preparedness food-storage vendors sell dehydrated foods, however it also a process that you can do right in your own home with either a low-temperature oven or a purpose-built food dehydrator, similar to this one… Excalibur.

During the process, moisture is removed from the food by slowly heating it at temperatures which may range from 115-F to 155-F depending on the recommendations for the food type itself. Typically a fan circulates the air within the food dehydrator to evenly distribute the heat. The process time may range from 8 hours to 12 hours or more, depending on the moisture content of the food and other factors.

When finished, typical ‘dehydrated food’ moisture levels are reduced to levels in a range from 10 to 20 percent – depending.

Home dehydrated foods may have a ‘typical’ shelf life ranging from six months to a year, however it is fairly easy to obtain much longer shelf life for many dehydrated foods by drying them longer, keeping them in a cool-dry storage environment, and properly packaging the food (vacuum sealer).

Dehydrating at home is a great way to store extra food from your garden, or vegetables and fruits you have purchased at the market at a great ‘sale’ price.

Advantages of Dehydrated Food

No waste
Lightweight
Low moisture
Do it yourself
Long shelf life
Not easily spoiled
Costs less than freeze dried food

 

 

FREEZE DRIED FOOD

Freeze drying is also a dehydration process – with some differences which enable the food to become MUCH DRIER than dehydrated food.

The freeze-dry process is a professional process which is very expensive to reproduce at home.

The foods are processed / frozen, and during the freezing process the surrounding air pressure is reduced in a vacuum chamber to enable the (frozen) water in the food to change from a ‘solid phase’ to a ‘gas phase’ in order to remove even more moisture.

Freeze drying removes more water from foods than dehydrating (down to just a few percent!), so it lengthens the shelf life. Many vendors of freeze dried foods claim shelf life as long as 25 years.

Freeze-dried foods can taste amazingly delicious due to the unique process which retains even more flavor and nutrients.

Advantages of Freeze-dried Food

Very long shelf life
Very lightweight
Very low moisture
Reconstitutes quickly
Best way to dry meat items
Generally tastes better than dehydrated
Retains original shape, texture, color after reconstitution
Both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods have a place in one’s diversified food storage. Freeze-dried foods are more expensive although very light weight with a long shelf life. Dehydrated foods can be processed at home, albeit with a shorter shelf life.

Linked from: http://modernsurvivalblog.com/survival-kitchen/dehydrated-vs-freeze-dried-foods/

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5 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DEHYDRATED AND FREEZE-DRIED FOOD

When it comes to storing food long term, the age-old question keeps coming up: freeze-dried or dehydrated?

Both can work as part of your emergency food storage, but there are key differences between the two that could make one better than the other for your particular circumstances. Check out these differences and then choose the option that’s best for you.

 

Shelf Life

IMG_4120 - Dehydrated and Freeze-driedMoisture content plays a huge impact on shelf life. The more moisture, the less amount of time it will last. With that in mind, it’s time to compare the moisture content of dehydrated and freeze-dried food.

Dehydrated food can lose quite a bit of moisture–up to 95 percent! However, do-it-yourself home dehydrators may only remove 70% or a food’s water, leaving it with a shelf life of only one year on average. However, most top end dehydrated food will still maintain a shelf life of even longer, up to 15 years or more.

Freeze-dried food, on the other hand, is much more suitable for long-term storage. Getting rid of 98-99 percent of moisture gives freeze-dried food a much lengthier shelf life. Our freeze-dried food has a shelf life of 25 years or more.

While both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods can have long shelf lives, freeze-dried food is definitely superior when it comes to long-term storage. In both cases, however, cooler temperatures will help lengthen their shelf life. We recommend storing your food in temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Preparation

Water_poured_in_5 - Dehydrated and Freeze-driedFreeze-dried meals prepare easily. Since everything is pre-cooked, all you need to do is add water, wait a few minutes, and your food is ready for eating! Best of all, it tastes just like it did the day it was created (which might very well have been 25 years ago).

Dehydrated food is a touch different in the way it’s prepared. Instead of letting your food soak for a few minutes, it needs to be cook—boiled, even—in order to rehydrate enough to become the food it used to be. This can take upwards to 20 minutes, depending on the food. While it’s not a huge issue, it can make a big difference if you’re in a hurry.

 

Nutrition

According to a food science professor at UC-Davis, freeze-dried food maintains most of its nutrients throughout the process, and once rehydrated, is very similar in nutritional value to its fresh counterpart. This is in contrast to dehydrated food which, although much of the nutrients remain, only around 50% – 60% of the original nutrients are left over. In freeze-dried food, there is about 97% of retained nutrients. In this area, freeze-dried food comes out on top.

 

Taste

Lasagna_image - Dehydrated and Freeze-driedLasagna with Meat Sauce, previously freeze-dried

Flavor is important in your food. If it doesn’t taste good, why would you even want to eat it? Fortunately, both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods taste great, but there is a difference in the way it’s prepared that makes one taste better than the other.

According to the Wild Backpacker, the taste of freeze-dried food is essentially held in the food, as the process involves very little heat. This keeps in the flavor, retains original texture, and secures the natural scents. This is why many believe freeze-dried food tastes better than dehydrated food, which uses heat to lose moisture, thus forfeiting flavor, original texture, and smell.

 

Weight

If your food intends to stay in your pantry or with your emergency food storage until used, then weight won’t really be an issue. However, dehydrated and freeze-dried food are delicious treats and meals to take on camping trips, hikes, and even in your bug-out bag, which in turn makes weight play a crucial role.

Dehydrated food is heavier than freeze-dried food, so if you are planning on taking one of these types of foods with you on a hike, freeze-dried food is your best option in terms of being lightweight. If you’re planning on getting a meal out of your food, you’ll want to make sure you either bring enough water or have access to it so you can rehydrate your meals. Many freeze-dried foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and even meats, can be snacked on without rehydrating them, making them a nice, lightweight option for snacking.

 

There are pros and cons to both dehydrated and freeze-dried food, so in the end it all boils down to what you’re looking for in a food, and how you intend to use it. When it comes to long-term storage and nutrients, however, freeze-dried food reigns supreme. So when you’re looking to invest in an emergency food storage, freeze-dried may very well be the way to go.

Linked from: http://beprepared.com/blog/20659/5-differences-dehydrated-freeze-dried-food/