Billie and Robert Nicholson
You know summer has arrived when yellow and zucchini squash are ready to harvest from your garden. When they are ready, there are usually a lot of them at once. There is a limit to how many you can eat, so preserving them for future meals makes sense. They can be pressure canned or blanched and frozen. Either technique is a lot of work. We’ve discovered another way to preserve squash – dehydration. Dehydration, a slow drying process, is a great way to preserve fruits, vegetables or meat and requires no additional energy to store.
There are several drying methods to consider.
- Sun drying can be accomplished if you have a couple of sunny days. We use a Sun Oven® set up in non-direct sun on warm days. Keeping the door open allows for evaporation and air-flow. Some fruits and vegetables are dried in one day, some things require a second day. Just latch the door to protect food overnight and open it again the next day. Temperature needs to be about 100ºF.
- Oven drying can be accomplished by leaving the light on in the oven. Prop the door open for air circulation. Remember to remove drying items before turning on the oven to cook something.
- Air-drying can be accomplished by simply spreading materials on a rack. Let them sit out of direct sun to dry for a few days. This works for herbs
- Electrical dehydration machines provide multiple shelves for larger quantities. Drying temperatures can be more carefully controlled.
This is our technique:
We cut the fruit in slices of equal thickness and spread them on dehydrator drying racks covered with parchment paper. It rained one night before I had time to collect the mature squash. They grew like crazy overnight and the next day some of them were huge. We split those big boys down the middle. Using a spoon we scooped out the seeds. When the halves were sliced they looked like crescents. We spread those slices and dried them too.
Once the trays were full, we sprinkled the slices with seasoning and herbs. We use Cavendar’s Greek seasoning or Seasoned Salt and crumbled, dried basil. Placing each shelf into the dehydrator, we set the temperature to 95º F. It is important to dry at a low temperature to preserve nutrients. We dried them for 48 hours, then turned the heat off and left the fan running for another day or so.
Meanwhile, we prepared a clean quart canning jar, lid and ring for each 6 shelves of dried squash. Stacking the dried slices into the jar, we pressed in as many as possible. To finish, we added a desiccant pack and an oxygen absorber on top of the slices and pulled a vacuum using a Food Saver. You can also use a new brake bleeder to pull a vacuum if you don’t have electricity. Jars of dried squash should be stored in a cool, dark cabinet until ready to eat.
These dried, seasoned vegetable slices make a great on-the-go snack or can be rehydrated and baked in a casserole or added to soup for a sit-down meal.
Billie and Robert Nicholson, authors, historians and master photographers, welcome your questions or comments. They can be reached at BillieandRobert@gmail.com.
Photos by Billie Nicholson