The dehydrator has been staying busy lately here, doing everything from drying flowers, herbs and peppers to making fruit leathers from apples and peaches. I have gotten so used to the sound of it running, that the kitchen sounds really quiet when it is turned off! We have the 5 tray model of the Excalibur dehydrator, and it does a great job for us for a multitude of drying tasks.
This week I was using it to dry some red ripe cayenne peppers. I didn’t really time the operation, but it took a day and a half to get them thoroughly dry. I turned the dehydrator off at night, so I am guessing it took about 10-12 hours at 135°F to get them dried to a crisp. I will leave them whole for now, but I will crumble them for flakes as needed and grind some up later for cayenne powder. We don’t use a lot of hot pepper, but a little bit of homegrown is always nice to have on hand. And while it’s colorful to string them up into a ristra, I like to store them in a glass jar to keep them fresh.
I also dry peppers for chili powder, usually a mix of Anaheim types, Anchos and Holy Moles. Unlike many commercial chili powder mixes, I don’t add anything else to my powder except dried ground peppers. It will be later when I dry those peppers since most of them are still green, though I do have a few Anaheims that are ready. This year I am also experimenting with some paprika type peppers to dry and grind for powder. I have Alma and Dulce Rojo growing now, and when they ripen I will dehydrate them. I may throw a few other sweet peppers in the mix as well.
We have been drying calendula flowers all summer, accumulating a few at a time as they bloom until there’s enough to fire up the dehydrator. Calendula is a wonderful healing and medicinal herb, and is loaded with antioxidants that are great for the skin. We mostly use these flowers for lotions, salves and soaps, but they are edible and I want to explore some culinary uses for them too. Currently I am infusing some olive oil with the dried calendula blossoms. That oil will probably go into a soap.
Right now I am also drying beans from the garden, though I don’t use the dehydrator. I planted a 10 foot section of row this year with Jacob’s Cattle bush beans. I was very happy with the results, as they yielded 25 ounces of dried beans. This will be a great bean for adding to soups. I’m still harvesting and drying the beans from Rattlesnake and Cherokee Trail of Tears. And rounding out the dried beans for 2013 is Good Mother Stallard, which is a later pole variety that is just now setting pods.
Another experiment this year is growing amaranth for seed. I have no delusions of growing any great quantity of seeds here, but I think it is a good choice for us given the limited space we have to devote to growing any kind of grains at all. Of course amaranth is not really a grain, but is considered a ‘pseudo grain’, which means it is a broadleaf plant used like a grain. The leaves of amaranth are edible too, but I have not planted any yet for that use.
So far I have let the seeds dry on their own inside. The amaranth seeds are tiny, and I was concerned I would have a difficult time separating them from the chaff. But so far it has proven to be fairly easy. First I sift out the course bits through a plastic strainer. Then I put what’s left into a bowl, and blow away the chaff, which is lighter in weight even than the tiny seeds. I’m sure this method wouldn’t work well with larger quantities, but so far I have a bit less than a tablespoon. Most of the plants are still flowering and setting seed, so it will be a few more weeks before I have any more ready to dry. I will experiment with different methods of sifting the seed, including using window screen material. The seeds in the below photo are pretty clean of chaff, though not as perfect as what you buy in the store.
This year I have just a few test plants growing, but next year I want to pick the more promising varieties and devote a little more garden space to then. Amaranth seeds come in a variety of colors including white, tan and blackish red, and in addition the flowers are highly decorative. Some varieties are reported to yield a pound of seed from a 10 foot row of 10 plants. If that is true then I think it is possible to grow enough to make it worth my while. I love to use amaranth in the kitchen where it is a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with protein and fiber. I have some almost every morning whenever I eat my Homemade Dry Toasted Muesli.
Occupying the dehydrator briefly were a few sprigs of rosemary. Normally I use rosemary fresh, and if I dry it I just hang it up to dry. But this rosemary is going into a soap I hope to make this week, where it will add a bit of color and visual interest as well as serve as a mild exfoliant. We often add dried herbs to our soaps. You can add fresh ones, but I find it is easier to grind them up to a fine consistency if they are dried first. They usually expand when they are added to soap, so finer is better for my tastes. Even something as small as a lavender bud can wind up pretty scratchy in the finished bar of soap.
I’m sure the dehydrator will be keeping busy throughout the fall, as we use it to dry peppers and apples, among other things. I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the ‘drying times’ we’ve been having lately here at Happy Acres. I’ll be back soon with more happenings!