Oh, the beloved dehydrator. As much a part of my food preservation system as my pressure cooker, boiling water canner, and vacuum sealer. I've been making homemade banana, strawberry, mango, apple and other fruit chips for years now, as well fruit leathers, dried veggies, dried herbs, and even some dehydrated dinners for the trail. We eat them as the fruit chips as snacks and as part of homemade trail mix while camping, hiking, etc. The kids are so used to real fruit chips, they won't even eat the store bought stuff - they think it's gross. You know, the sugar-coated kind that comes in a clam-shell case. A couple years ago, we were out running errands, it was one of those days I was not prepared with snacks in the car, and my son asked for some strawberry chips. Okay, sure, why not? As a special treat. Well, why not is that they're covered in sugar and soaked in preservatives, but let's put that aside for a moment.☺ He ate one and almost spit it out. "What's wrong with these? They don't taste like your strawberry chips. Here, you can have them. I'll wait." This from a hungry 2nd grader. Oh, yeah, Victory for Mom moment. When your little ones can tell between real food and processed, manufactured food. I was so proud.
So, for any who haven't delved into dehydrating, fruit is the absolute simplest thing to start with. And you don't need anything fancy. I started off with a hand-me-down dehydrator and trays like this one:
It doesn't even have a dial, you just plug it in and it turns on. The temperature is controlled by turning the top vent, and you rotate each tray from bottom to top (or vise versa) to get each tray dried at the same rate. It worked great, and it was free, so I was all over that.
Then Hubby upgraded me to this one from Sportsman's Guide (no, I don't make money off the link):
He is so awesome. This has 10 trays, a 12 hour timer, and temperature control. And he got me some liners for fruit leathers and mesh tray inserts for small stuff like banana chips, herbs, and anything else that would fall through the trays. I am all set with this thing! And I passed my other dehydrator down to my neighbor, who was enjoying my fruit snacks and asking about which one she should buy. Buy?? No way, pass along the goodness of free useful stuff!
Back to fruit chips. What do you really need to make them?
- A heating device. A dehydrator (homemade or store-bought), an oven, a hot car, a tray in the sun (this doesn't work in Michigan, but in those 'dry heat' climates it does).
- A cutting device. A mandolin or other type of even-slicing device is handy and makes it go quicker, but if you have a knife and can make relatively even cuts, that will work fine.
- A holy surface. Some type of tray that allows air to circulate all around the fruit. Dehydrator trays, cookie cooling racks, even window screen.
- Good fruit. Overripe or under ripe fruit is no good. If you put not-so-good fruit in, you get not-so-good dried fruit out.
See? It doesn't take much. To dry, all you do is cut the fruit, lay it on the trays, turn on the dehydrator/oven/sun and let it happen. And it is so yummy, and cheap! Have you looked at fruit roll-up or banana chip prices? Eek! Buying fruit in season and on sale and then preserving it (in any fashion) is an easy way to stretch your budget. Getting fruit on the cheap is a post for another day, but as for dehydrating, I'll show the banana chips next.