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Harvest season is approaching and it fills you with worry over how you’re going to store and preserve such a large yield. Well, I’ve already explained the basics of canning certain fruits and vegetables in the form of sauces, pickles, and jams, and there’s freezing as well but both these practices require you to carry them out at extreme temperatures. Also, with canning, it’s a hit or miss situation so you may end up having to store all your bottles in the fridge rather than in the cellar.

Luckily, there’s a third, sure-fire method that doesn’t require as much effort, and you don’t need to end up refrigerating the final product either. Drying is a useful practice that has been carried out over centuries to help preserve food and you can try it too.

There are numerous advantages of drying your home-grown produce; dried produce will weigh less, can be stored anywhere and they are able to conserve their nutrients better than if they were frozen or dried. Now we’re not saying to dry everything, because that’s not possible. While it is possible to dry most fruits and berries, as well as common vegetables, it won’t always be productive to your cooking.

How To Do It

You can go about the drying process in two ways; you can either dry your produce indoors or outdoors. Whichever process you choose, there are some requirements that have to be met. It’s crucial that you dry at the right temperature that bacteria is inhibited but nutrients are also preserved.

Warm temperatures and adequately humid atmospheric conditions both contribute to quick drying. Additionally, air circulation can also speed up the process to give you quicker results. Ideally, temperatures between 130 to 140oF are able to dry fruits and vegetables quickly without tarnishing their nutritional value.

Air circulation is also crucial; it’s necessary that you leave enough space between your produce to facilitate drying. Moreover, make sure to cut fruits and vegetables into thin pieces so that air circulation can take place between the produce. It’s also a must that you never stack your produce just to dry more amounts at a single time.

Drying Outdoors

You’ll be using the heart of the sun by drying with this method and your setup shouldn’t require many things except some basic equipment. You can place your drying tray on top of blocks, and keep a tarp sheet beneath the blocks so that dust stays away.

Use a cookie sheet so that the produce doesn’t react with the tray, and place a towel on top so that heat can reach inside while keeping predators such as animals and birds away. Remember to treat your produce by leaving it in the freezer for 48 hours before drying because this destroys all present bacteria.

Drying Indoors

This is basically using your oven or a food dehydrator to dry your produce. These make the job of drying produce pretty easy; all you need to do is pop in the fruits or vegetables, set the temperature, and voila! If you don’t already have one and don’t want to make the extra effort of drying outdoors, make sure to select a dehydrator that is vented to permit air circulation, and has a good thermostat which lets you set it to ideal temperatures. If you want to reduce the cost of utilities, then opt for a dehydrator that’s insulated so it’ll take up less electricity.

These are the ways that you can dry your homegrown produce at home and use it for months to come. Remember to store your dried food in airtight containers before placing them in the cabinet, and you’re good to go. Happy Farming!

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Make Your Own Olive Oil

Original post from the OHH blog (see it here).

Our area is loaded with olive trees. We have a tree on our property too. Just recently, I bought a 33.8 oz bottle of extra virgin olive oil (off-brand) at the grocery store. It cost over $8.00. The more expensive brands were closer to $14.00. Do you see where I’m headed here folks? It’s time to try to make our own!

We set up a grinding and pressing station in the empty bedroom of the house. Here’s how:

The sink and counter came from Home Depot. (Makes me sad that we didn’t have either on hand, especially since the hubby’s profession has him tearing these things out all the time. Oh well.) Together they cost a bit over $100.00 and the time spent setting it up took about an hour, plus, the hubby always spends at least an hour in Home Depot regardless of what he went there for! (I’ll have totals for ya at the end.)

The grinder we chose is their top-of-the-line, under-the-sink garbage disposal that can rip anything to shreds. It works wonders and though it was a whopping $300.00, it was a really good investment that will last us a very long time. But it doesn’t come with a cord… if you don’t have an extra one on hand, you’ll have to buy it and wire it in. Another $8.00 and 10 minutes gone.

The press was about $120.00 from Harbor Freight and very easy to put together. (But the hubby is kicking himself because he thinks he could have made a better one for less. Oh well again.) It took about a half hour or so. With just these two things… oil is born.

It took us about an hour and a half to pick a full bucket. In “experienced olive picker” laborer time that would probably be more like 30 minutes. If you have an entire grove to pick you’ll most likely want to hire help to do it, and that cost is unknown. (I’m sure that if you have to factor labor in, the deficit bulges out by a lot!) When you harvest the olives, immediately wash them and plan to grind them the same day, or up to a few days later. Don’t wait much longer than that since they can begin to rot, and/or the flavor of the oil you produce will be compromised. What a waste that would be!

Our olive tree was busting out with olives but we waited too long. This is the last good one. Olives can be darker green to black* and anything in between… but when they get old and shrivel this much, you’ll have oil that quite possibly could be rancid. So move quickly. We ended up taking the ladder to a public area/street corner where there are five olive trees just busting at the seams with fat, ripe olives. They were all over the roadside and nobody cared at all. So we picked our hearts out and trucked home to cold press** them. But I hesitate to add the time it took us to get there and back simply because this is a one-time deal. We’ll be using our own olives from here on out.

We laid down a big block of wood to make sure the plastic bin would have a flat surface to sit on.

We used a painters’ straining bag to add the mash to and then wrapped it with cheese cloth. Minimal cost, stuff we already had (including the buckets) and so I won’t add them in this time.

A block of wood was used to press the mash, so to keep it sanitary, it had to be wrapped in something. I thought that plastic wrap would be a good idea however, it tends to make things slide around (because of the oil) and the bag of mash can end up to one side causing breakage. (Two mishaps and we learned to re-align it when that happens.) If we figure out a better way, I’ll post it here.

(Update: Just received a tip that blew my mind! Glue a plastic cutting board to the wooden block for pressing. It’ll be easy to clean and it won’t slide around. Done!!)

Continue reading part 2…

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