BDN reporter Sam Schipani shows how to dry foods for yourself. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

If you have a bumper crop and are running out of freezer space, drying foods is a great way to preserve your harvest. The benefits of some dried foods are obvious — anyone who has shopped in the spice aisle of the grocery store knows how great it is to have dried herbs in the kitchen. However, there are some foods you may not have known that you can dry that will be great as the months begin to cool and the harvest begins to dwindle.

The first thing to note is that in Maine, you will probably need a dehydrator for most food items.

“Here in Maine, we really do not have low humidity high heat days,” said Kathleen Savoie, extension educator at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “It doesn’t lend itself to an effective solar drying method. A dehydrator is definitely the most efficient way to go.”

Secondly, just because you can dry something, doesn’t mean you should.

“I personally wouldn’t dehydrate pumpkin or squash,” Savoie said. “That’s something you can easily [keep in a] root cellar. [By drying, you’re] dumping a lot of energy into taking something that can be root cellared. I feel the same about potatoes.”

Still, drying food is a great way to mix up your preservation tactics, especially after you have frozen or canned all that you can.

BDN reporter Sam Schipani shows how to dry foods for yourself. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Peaches and plums

Peaches and plums are in season, so they are easy and inexpensive to buy in bulk from the farmers market or grocery store. While they are scrumptious on their own, you can dry them for tasty snacking in colder months.

“Any of these can be sliced thin and dried that way or you can turn anything into a fruit leather,” Savoie said.

Wash the fruit, halve it and remove the pit. Lay the fruit flesh-side up in a single layer on the dehydrator. Keep the temperature low to start, about 120 degrees Fahrenheit — otherwise, the skin might burst — and increase the heat to around 150 degrees Fahrenheit once the skins are shriveled. Drying stone fruits can take up to 12 hours.

Garlic and onions

Though garlic and onions can be stored for long-term use in a cool, dry place, they are also very useful when they are dried.

“Those are great to have on hand to use,” Savoie said. “If you’re making a dehydrated soup mix or spaghetti sauce mix, anything you’re going to take camping with you, they will naturally impart the great flavors.”

To dry garlic, remove cloves from their papery sheaths. Spread in a single layer on a dehydrator tray and dehydrate at about 125 degrees Fahrenheit until crispy, about 12 hours. Let cool, and grind into a powder to add to your spice rack.

To dry onion, remove the skins, cut off the bottoms (you can save both to add to homemade broth) and slice the onion into even half moons. Spread evenly on a dehydrator tray and heat at 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Onions can take between three and nine hours to dry, depending on their thickness and moisture content. Properly dried onions should snap when you break them. You can store the whole dried pieces, mince them or grind them into onion powder.

Mushrooms

If you have had a successful foraging season and are swimming in mushrooms, it may be helpful to dry them to use in cooking later in the year.

“They dry well, and [contrary to popular belief] you do not need to blanch them,” Savoie said. “Those are good, again, if you’re looking to turn around and make dried soups or sauces.”

BDN reporter Sam Schipani shows how to dry foods for yourself. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Slice the mushrooms and spread them evenly out on a dehydrator tray. Fresh mushrooms are between 70 and 90 percent water, so it would be difficult to dehydrate the fungus as a whole — the thinner they are sliced, the faster they will dehydrate. Set the dehydrator to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (or lower, if you can) and let dry for between 4 and 8 hours, depending on the thickness of the mushrooms.

Cherry tomatoes

Bumper crops of cherry tomatoes in the late summer can be overwhelming. You can snack on them, or you can ameliorate some of the tasty burden by drying a portion of your crop.

“‘Tis the season for cherry tomatoes falling off of your plant right now,” Savoie said. “[Dried], they’re like candy. They are so sweet and delicious.”

Wash your cherry tomatoes and slice them in half. Cutting the tomatoes in half is essential to making sure they dry properly.

“If you don’t, you end up having a situation where the outside skin prevents the moisture from the inside from coming out of it and it doesn’t dry well,” Savoie said.

Set the halved tomatoes on the dehydrator trays and let them dry for nine to 10 hours at about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can resist eating them as a tasty snack, Savoie said you can save them for pizza or pasta sauce once fresh tomato season has ended.