|Oh look at my lovely plate of dried things. It’s like Harvest time. At noon o’clock we have dried orange slices and rose petals, going clockwise we have dried sage and tarragon, cherry tomatoes, aubergines and apples. Martha Stewart will be wondering if she gave birth to me and abandoned me without remembering.|
This is the time of year, apparently, when we have a glut of stuff and need to start preserving it. In Italy we’d be doing the tomatoes about now, cookin’ them up, sieving them, passing them through o’Moulinex and slapping the resultant sludge into bottles we’d been saving all year. The entire neighbourhood would smell of tomatoes.
I don’t do that. Mostly cos I don’t grow tomatoes and let’s face it, Cirio does passata for me.
What I do do at this time of year is get the dehydrator out and start drying out anything that takes my fancy.
What’s the point of dehydrating stuff? Well it’s a way of preserving things, if you don’t want to/can’t freeze it, or make it into chutneys ‘n’ stuff. For certain things – mushrooms for instance – it’s absolutely the only thing, as far as I’m concerned, to do with them. But the great thing about a dehydrator is you can also dry your own fruit in it, so you can make your own banana chips, apple chips, you can dry blueberries, pineapple, whatever you goddam well like. In certain parts of the world that will remain nameless (America) they also dry bits of meat to make beef jerky.
I don’t do this.
But you can also dry your herbs before they die off for the winter. Those that do. Apparently some don’t but that sentence alone has taken me to the very edge of my horticultural knowledge.
So much so that I don’t actually know if growing herbs is horticulture or something else.
Anyway. You can spend hundreds of pounds on dehydrators. And if you have an allotment, and lots of larder space and lots of jam jars and are that sort of person, then by all means spend hundreds on a dehydrator that has drawers and you can set the temperature etc. At the other end, you can easily do all of this in an oven, set very low. Disadvantages of that (unless you have an Aga, in which case you will already be a smug bastard) are that unless you have a very energy efficient oven (I do) you can end up spending loads on electricity cos you need to dry things out for about 12 hours.
And it also means you can’t use the oven for anything else, unless you have two ovens (I do, do you hate me yet?). I make fruit leathers in the oven and it takes FOREVER, in the dehydrator it takes half the time.
In between all of this are cheap dehydrators which is what I’ve got. You can get a really good one from Lakeland. It works really well. It’s big though, it has a footprint probably equivalent to an elephant’s. It has trays which you stack. It’s piss easy to use and clean and if you want to make fruit leathers (or meringues come to that) you just use some baking parchment over the trays. It only has an on/off button and only one temperature: 85 degrees.
A dehydrator really isn’t for everyone. But I’ve got small children who eat a lot of banana chips and fruit leathers and I just like making my own. You can chop up dried fruit and also put it on your breakfast cereal if you don’t want to just eat it as it is, but I love that too, it makes a great snack. Somehow naughtier than just eating a normal apple…I’m so sad.
You can also dry veg and just chop it up and put it into stews and sauces. I do this with aubergines and courgettes (you can also do beans, almost anything really, peas you can also do and use them in caterpaults). It’s handy when you’ve got some veg left that you’re not going to use, but don’t want to waste. Dried aubergine slices cost about £5 in deli shops just cos they look pretty and are presented in cellophane bags. Also it makes the house smell amazingly of whatever you’re drying so you know, like a two in one product..
|Look at my little jewels. Remember the little cherry tomatoes up top? Here they are under extra Catholic olive oil in my favourite jam jars, Bonne Maman. That’s my vegetable (raised) bed you can see in the background. Smell the smugness.