I have long wanted to make meat jerkies and to dry various foods. With the bumper crop of peppers from my own garden and cheap “irregular” fruits available at the farmer’s market, it was time to finally do something about this desire.
I picked up the Nesco GardenMaster food dehydrator from Amazon (pictured/linked at right).
It includes 4 drying trays, a leather drying insert, a “small things” drying insert and can expand to up to 30 trays. At 1,000 watts and with the thermostat on the front, it will maintain drying temperatures between 95 and 155 degrees.
In other words, the Nesco is a fairly industrial strength unit. Well built. Fairly loud.
Loud enough that I would suggest putting it in a room with a door that otherwise has good ventilation. You’ll definitely want the ventilation if you are drying things like garlic or hot peppers. Otherwise, the surrounding room will become quite the little gas chamber. Even with an open sliding door, I managed to fairly seriously pepper spray myself while drying a bunch of habanero peppers!
The unit seems to run about 10 to 15 degrees hotter than the thermostat indicates. As I’m using a probe thermometer, I’m not sure exactly where I should be measuring temperature. As well, since it can stack to 30 trays and I’m only using 3 or 4 at a time, I would bet that the heat will vary as I add more trays.
Nesco, the manufacturer, has a very useful web site which includes recipes, full documentation, and various other information. I submitted a query via their customer support link and was nicely surprised to have a response in my mailbox in a couple of hours. I have since exchanged several emails with Gerry in Nesco’s customer service who is obtaining calibration information from the company’s engineering department.
I’m damned impressed. Good customer service, that!
So… what have I dried with it in the week I have owned it?
I have dried both Hungarian Paprika and Green Habanero peppers. Separately. Both dried quickly and I finely ground the product to produce a very fine, extremely tasty, very spicy rub. Good stuff! My parents have done this many times and it should hold a decent spice for up to a year, likely more if I were to freeze it. I dried these for about 15-20 hours at 130 degrees; probably a little bit longer than was necessary in this particularly efficient dehydrator.
Make sure it is stored in an air tight container.
Nope. Didn’t make prunes. I took some plums from the farmer’s market, sliced them, and dried them until leathery — about 6 hours at 125 degrees or so.
The flavor changed big time. The result was a super concentrated plum flavor with very little sweetness. Completely delicious. I suspect that drying them for not quite as long and then baking an open faced pie with a creamy filling would be absolutely delicious as the plums would reconstitute themselves a bit from the liquid in the cream sauce.
Making raisins is stupid simple. Takes about 15 to 25 hours at 130 degrees, depending on how dry you want them. The result is just ridiculously yummy. As I can get excellent quality seedless grapes at the farmer’s market for less than $1.50/lbs, I have pretty much been producing batch after batch of grapes.
I wonder what my electric bill is going to look like??
In the unlikely chance that one of the heirloom tomatoes doesn’t get eaten, I have been thin slicing them onto the “small stuff” insert (keeps the drips down and it can be easily bent to peel off the product) and drying until crispy.
While yummy as an alternative to a potato chip, crumbling the resulting chips into sauteed vegetables or over corn on the cob is incredibly tasty.
The flavor completely changes. Becomes an incredibly intense tomato flavor with little of the acids? I’m not sure how to describe it other than that adding a little lemon or lime juice as they cook into the foods yields a citrusy tomato essence that is divine.
I’m going to dry a bunch of garlic, tomatoes and basil, then grind it all together to make my own kind of italian seasoning. I’m betting it will be an incredible replacement for the raw garlic in garlic bread!
Now that she is aware of my recent addition to my kitchen arsenal, my friend is going to force her family’s jerky recipe on my (Heh… yeah… “force”). She is also threatening to prepare stuff to be dried and bring it in to work. Fine by me as long as she makes enough extra to pay my larder tax!
I’ll also be keeping an eye out for bargains at the farmer’s market. The odd bins are often chock full of goodies that taste perfectly fine, will dry great, but are bumped up enough to drive their price down!