by Tara Pederson

In these early summer days a lot of us find ourselves faced with huge quantities of those vegetables and herbs we planted to keep ourselves busy and surround ourselves with useful and beautiful things.  While a lot of people are perfectly happy making jelly and pickling things, that doesn’t always work so well – for fresh herbs especially-

So what do we do with them? Today I will share with you a couple of methods for the hydrating those beautiful herbs as well as other produce and some ideas on how to use them before and after dehydrating.

A lot of people have expressed to me overtime trepidation about dehydrating things, whether it be due to lack of experience, lack of exposure to or general over caution about them, using dehydrated ingredients can tend to feel confusing and difficult. So let’s talk a little about the history of dehydration.

Dehydration is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and was used by prehistoric peoples in sun-drying seeds.

North American Indians preserved meat by sun-drying slices, the Chinese dried eggs, and the Japanese dried fish and rice. Hot-air dehydration was developed in France in 1795.

Many of the oldest forms of dehydration are still used regularly around the world.  But we have also progressed to faster and more dependable ways of doing so. From your home oven to electric dehydrators of all grades, there are easy, reliable ways to do all kinds of things!

Salted or seasoned meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables should all be sliced as thinly as possible, either by hand or with your choice of slicers.  My recommended methods are using your oven on a low temperature (150-200 degrees F), and rotating the pan every 15-30 minutes, depending on what you are drying. Or use an affordable small electric dehydrator.  Mine at home plugs in, has stacking vented trays and no additional settings.  It still needs regular checking, but doesn’t get much easier.

Meats become jerky, but can also be chopped or crumbled to add to soups or sauces.  Fruits and vegetables can be seasoned and eaten as snack chips, added to salads or soups, used to top and garnish dishes and desserts, or powdered to add to seasoning mixes and smoothies.

Herbs are best used fresh, in my opinion, but when faced with excess and the desire not to waste them, freezing is too often not a great option.  They brown and become slimy. Drying and using your own herbs and mixes of them is the next best thing.

Aside from the above methods, if you have more patience, herbs can be tied in bunches and hung upside down in a window to dry, no equipment required.

Once they’re dry, they can be used just as any dry herbs, to season all your culinary creations. They can also be added to oils and vinegars, for cooking or dipping.  And their shelf life, in air tight containers, is 6 to 12 months.

One of my favorite recipes:

Place kale in a large bowl and toss lightly with olive oil, sea salt, and garlic.

Lay the freshly seasoned kale flat on a large baking sheet. For best results, don’t overcrowd the baking sheet. (Make in two batches if necessary). Bake at 200 degrees F for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes or until crisp.

Top with parmesan.  Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week