Drying is one of the oldest forms of preservation in the world. Virtually all indigenous tribes used the technique as a way to preserve foods for colder or drier times.
Some things can be spread out in the sunshine but most require a drafty shade to maintain their color and nutrients. These days we have electric dehydrators which work quite well. Ovens can also be used; mine has a pilot light which is ideal. If yours doesn’t have this option, the lowest setting (with the door slightly ajar) often works well.
I dry my basil in the oven.
It’s relatively thin and can easily be dried by spreading it out on a cookie sheet. Once dried, I transfer it to glass jars. This basil can then be used in soups, salads, eggs or dips. It does discolor a bit, but it tastes just fine.
Tomatoes and paprika, however, really need a bit more power. I use an electric dehydrator. With tomatoes, I like to start with a paste variety as there is less water in the flesh. San Marzanos are my favorites. I wash and dry the tomatoes, then cut them into slices. The thinner the slice the quicker they dry. However, I find that if I cut them too thin, they stick to the tray and become difficult to remove. Quarter-inch slices have worked best for me. I lay them flat on the tray and put the dehydrator on 125 degrees. After a few hours, I lift them up so that they won’t stick and the next day, I turn them over. At the end of a few days, they are nice and dry and ready to use in recipes. I want them to be almost crispy so that I can grind them up and use them in dips.
Paprika needs to come from actual paprika peppers.
I get the plants from some local nurseries and put them in the ground when the danger of frost has passed. I have heard that they like sulphur so I usually place five or six matches in the ground with their roots. They enjoy a bit of support as well so I have some nice cages that I use to give it to them.
As the peppers mature, I cut them from the plants. I carefully wash and dry them and slice them into ribbons discarding the internal seeds (or feeding these bits to the chickens if you have some). These ribbons go onto the trays and I again dry them at about 125 degrees. It takes a few days and you want them to get completely brittle so you can grind them into powder.
This powder makes excellent gifts and is a great addition to quiches, deviled eggs and other egg dishes.
Celeste Longacre has been growing virtually all of her family’s vegetables for the entire year for over 30 years. She cans, she freezes, she dries, she ferments & she root cellars. She also has chickens.
Celeste has also enjoyed a longtime relationship with The Old Farmer’s Almanac as their astrologer! A personally autographed copy of her book, Love Signs, is available in the Almanac.com General Store. You can also find an ebook version on Amazon.com for $2.99.
Celeste is a great speaker for garden groups and civic groups. She is also offer a gardening “Apprentice with Celeste." Email her for details via AlmanacEditors@yankeepub.com