Drying foods yourself allows you to choose the best, tastiest varieties you can buy or pick fresh from the garden. Home drying also lets you enjoy dried fruits and vegetables the grocery stores don’t carry. Dried berries make wonderful additions to winter muffins. Dried tomatoes perk up a pot of baked beans. Backpackers let lightweight dried vegetable mixes simmer into tempting soups. And the foods you dry yourself cost a lot less than the ones you buy.
Microorganisms and enzymes that spoil food need water to be active. Drying works as a preservation method simply by depriving them of water. Unlike canning, in which you follow precise instructions for packaging and processing times to keep the food safe to eat, food drying is flexible. Decisions about food-piece sizes, food mixtures, pretreatments, and packaging are yours. Drying time is determined less by the clock than by simple tests you perform.
Almost any food-safe packaging will do for dried foods. And, unlike canned foods, packages can be opened and closed again and again. High-quality, moderately priced electric dehydrators are widely available. Easy to use and needing little care, they produce a consistently top-quality product. For these reasons, most people buy or borrow electric dehydrators rather than use their oven or the sun. Whatever drying method you choose, the principles in this guide will apply.