I think that one of the most important rituals of the late Summer/early Fall is the preserving of the harvest in preparation for the dark, cold months ahead. Our ancestors relied on this to survive and, although preserving food seems so unnecessary in modern life, it can be a great money saver. It seems silly to waste fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables if, with just a little effort, you can preserve them and use them later.
This week I have been experimenting with my new food dehydrator. It is a rather simple model with a heating coil at the bottom, and without a fan (like the higher-end dehydrators have). In the past, I have dried fruit and jerky in the oven, but then I found this model at Aldi the other day for $20. I figured it was worth a shot.
My first attempt was a modest one. I had bunches of fresh herbs from my garden that I didn't want to go to waste, and I figured I could use the dried herbs in stews and other fall and winter dishes. First up was dill. It took a good 8 hours or so, but it turned out perfectly. I have to admit, I am a big fan of dill - I mean, I just LOVE it in so many things - and now I have been able to fill a jar with dried dill big enough to last me until next Spring.
I threw a few apple slices on one of the trays, too. The apples took a few hours longer than the herbs, but they turned out great, too. Actually, after I finish my herbs, I plan on drying a couple of bags of apples. Not only do dried apples make great snacks, they can be used in so many delicous recipes.
If you would like to dry some herbs, but don't have a dehydrator, it's easy enough to do it in the oven. (Many herbs can be dried just by hanging them to dry, or spread out on screens, but this isn't a good option if you live in a place with high humidity.)
To dry herbs in the oven, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Turn your oven down to it's lowest setting, because the idea is to dry the herbs, not to bake them. Place your baking sheet(s) in the oven, but leave the door open slightly so that the air can circulate freely. Since different herbs will take different amounts of time to dry, check them every 15 minutes. When they are dry and crumbly, they are done. Store your herbs in an airtight jar, away from heat and light, and enjoy them in your heartiest dishes as a reminder of the warmth of summer.