It’s not much to look at, but I’m pretty crazy about this humble food dehydrator. It’s the third I’ve owned, and probably the simplest to operate. It’s a big improvement on the first one I bought, back when I was 22 and had just started growing herbs and hanging out in the natural food section of our local grocery store. A co-worker had mentioned that his dad built these really rugged dehydrators, and after he told me how easy it was to halt food in its tracks and force it to hang in limbo till you were ready to eat it, I ordered one … for $100. (Little did I know that I’d be able to buy simpler, better dehydrators in the future for a quarter of that price.) That first one was a whopper–and VERY homemade. It was constructed of some sort of ugly, unpainted metal … aluminum, maybe? … with a giant fan in the back, enclosed in front by a piece of plexiglass with magnetic strips running along the edge and drilled fingerholes so you could grasp it and pull it off when you wanted to check your food. If I remember correctly, it had ten screens that slid in and out on runners attached to the sides. They looked suspiciously like window screens that my friend’s father had perhaps stolen from the windows of their house. I’ll never know for sure.
That ugly, awkward thing lived a good life and gave me jars and jars of dried onions and pineapple rings, apple and pear slices, and mixed berry fruit roll-ups. I felt a certain thrill every time I loaded up those screens. I still feel that way whenever I lay the last piece of whatever on that last spot on the last tray, and set the cover on top and hit the “on” switch. I suddenly feel like Ma Ingalls preserving the last of summer’s bounty, and I just know that I’ve somehow managed, single-handedly, to keep us all from starving come winter.
Recently, I bought a 50-lb bag of Walla Walla Sweet onions and spent a few days drying the bulk of them. Here’s how the process looked:
No matter what you set out to dehydrate, you want to try to get your pieces as close to the same size as you can so they dry evenly and are ready at the same time.
Here’s part of my first batch. I put up several jars of these pieces and will use them in soups, stews and casseroles. You can either drop them in a bubbling pot or re-hydrate them in a little hot water before using.
Some of the drier, more brittle pieces went in to my mortar and pestle to be ground into onion powder.
So there you have it. Pretty easy, huh? Now, no one in my family will tell you that onions are their favorite thing to come out of the dehydrator. They’d probably opt for apple or pear slices, or fruit roll-ups. But they happily eat everything these onions go into just the same.