As the fall harvest winds down, home gardeners can stock pantries with produce for use during winter by dehydrating vegetables and fruits. To dry produce, use a food dryer or dehydrator. They generally require less energy than an electric oven.
Choose good quality fruits and vegetables for drying. Place produce on trays and slide them into dryers. Most produce will dry in four to 12 hours. Treat light colored fruit like apples, peaches, and pears with sulfur to keep them from oxidizing and turning brown during drying. Sulfur also prevents the loss of vitamins A and C.
Treat fruit with sulfur fumes in a sulfur box, or dip it in a solution of sodium bisulfate and water for 5 to 10 minutes before drying. Sodium bisulfate can be found in most drug stores and winemakers’ shops. Blanch most vegetables before drying to stop enzymatic action that can destroy color and flavor of the finished product. To blanch, dip vegetables in boiling water for at least two minutes and then in ice water for the same amount of time. Drain the water and blot the pieces on paper towels. Place the vegetables in the dryer immediately.
Dry most vegetables until they become leathery or brittle. Cutting them into small pieces will decrease drying time. Store vegetables in containers in a cool, dark, dry location. Making ristras is a good, traditional technique for drying some vegetables, such as chile. Ristras, or strings of chile, are hung in the sun. The moist red pods dry rapidly and can be used for cooking during the winter. They also make popular decorations.
To make chile ristras, tie three red chile pods together by their stems on a string to form a cluster, then space clusters three inches apart along the string to form the ristra. Braid the ristras together on wire or twine hung from a rafter with a loop on the bottom to keep the chile from slipping off the wire. Start at the bottom and work up, pushing the pods down in the center to ensure a snug fit.
Multicolored popcorn ears can also be braided into ristras to dry. The two-inch long strawberry popcorn is one of the most popular varieties for ristras. Be sure to select ears without corn earworm damage if using as a decoration. Moisten the leaves to help in the braiding process. Trim off excess leaves as ears are added.
Aging sweet corn ears can also be braided together into ristras. After the ears dry, the ristra can be hung from a tree to feed birds during winter.
This article adapted from Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, USDA. Please contact Ken Churches at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 754-6475 with your agricultural questions. To speak with a Certified Master Gardener: Calaveras (209) 754-2880, Tuolumne (209) 533-5696, Amador (209) 223-6837, El Dorado (530) 621-5543.