When you’re thinking about preserving food, you should think about dehydrating more often. I really like dehydrating because it’s such a space saver. I can put a bushel of peas in a couple of quart canning jars and toss in a moisture absorbing silica gel indicating packet.
I’m not a fan of freezers for the following reasons. Freezers depend on electric (usually). Electric can go out for many reasons and it can go back on in 5 minutes or 5 weeks depending where you live. I just cringe at the thought of having to can a freezer full of food when conditions are bad or just watch it all go bad. The second reason I don’t like freezers is that it’s not easy looking through it. If you have a packed freezer either chest or standup you will have to dig through it to find what you need.
When I dehydrate food I usually just store it in mason jars with a moisture absorbing silica gel indicating packet. Then I put them on the shelves in my pantry. Everything is orderly, easy to see and an older guy like me doesn’t have to bend over to get the stuff I use most often. I have a few ways that I dehydrate my foods and I’ll tell you a little about each.
My smoker is used for smoking and dehydrating meats. I’m a hunter and farmer, so we have a lot of meat on hand most of the year. To save my freezer space, I like to jerky most of our meat especially venison. We can eat it as is then or even use it in recipes like soup and chilly.
I made my current smoker from a few skids and some leftover metal roofing. A smoker is really nothing but a box that captures smoke and you have the ability to control the heat. You can choose to hot smoke which won’t preserve food: it just makes it taste smoked like you would cook a brisket. Cold smoking is a long process that allows food to dry and absorb the smoke making it last much longer. For hot smoking, you would put the fire in the area you have the meat. Cold smoking has the fire outside the box and funnels in the cooler smoke.
After I make the jerky, we store them the same as the rest of my dehydrated food with the exception of putting it in ½ gallon or one gallon jars with 2 moisture absorbing silica gel indicating packets. The jerky doesn’t really last long at my house, so I can’t tell you what the shelf life is.
I also use my electric dehydrator quite often: usually when it’s wet outside or cold. You can look at all sorts of electric dehydrators. They come in round versions and square versions. I think you get more drying space with the square version: just do your research and check ratings.
The best dehydrator I have is my solar dehydrator. There are so many plans available, but all work the same. Glass collects the heat of the sun creating airflow through the box that contains the food. It’s not heat that dries the food: it’s the dry airflow that dries the food out.
Outdoor food dehydrators need to be built to your needs. If you produce a lot of food, you want a larger dehydrator with many racks. If you only need it for a few items, build a smaller version. I got the idea for my dehydrator from Bigelow Brook Farm. It was the most in-depth plan. You can modify it like I did by using a piece of glass at home.
The racks are nice and it really makes drying tomatoes and goji berries nice because it takes them like a week to dry. The only drawback is the side load. I believe I will modify it to load from the back. This should be an easy modification and you might want to consider it before building.
Lastly, you can just dry your food or fruits on screens in the sun. Sun dried tomatoes done this way are so good. The sun is so amazing and it can actually change the flavor of the food for the better when directly dehydrated in the sun. To dehydrate fruit, vegetables, and herbs this way, just build a rack to put on a table and add a screen top to keep the bugs off. My parents always dried apple rings for us in this way and they were so good. Now I do it for my children!
You may find yourself using all these way to preserve food as I do. Even on our small plot of land, we have an excess of food and can’t eat all of it fresh. We end up harvesting and throwing the foods right in the dehydrators.