As preserving the local harvest for later consumption becomes a growing trend, the ancient practice of drying food is catching on, say the authors of "The Dehydrator Bible."
Dehydrating or drying is the process of removing water from meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and herbs.
It is an effective way to capture flavours, while retaining their nutritional value, says Jennifer MacKenzie, who collaborated on the book, published by Robert Rose, with her husband Jay Nutt and Don Mercer.
She is a home economist, Nutt is a chef and they live in Lakefield, Ont. Mercer is an associate professor in the Food Science Department at the University of Guelph.
"Dehydrating is not difficult to do," says MacKenzie, "and the commercial dehydrators with the fans make the process easier and really helps speed the drying."
This has prompted sales of the appliance to jump 25 per cent last year to nearly three million units in North America, she says.
MacKenzie says that dehydrators take up little space, adding "they are not any bigger than your average microwave oven."
"A lot of their trays can be stacked and you can start with something small, and if you really enjoy it you can add more trays."
One of her favourite dried foods are fruit leathers. Fruits like apricots, apples and strawberries are pureed and spread in a thin layer and dried. After drying, the sheet of fruit is often cut into strips or rolled into cylinders for easy snacking, perfect for school lunch boxes or for a nutritious snack.
"One of the things I like about home drying fruits into leathers is that many of the commercial ones contain preservatives and sugar whereas home dried can be controlled and the flavours are really intense so you don't need additives."
With vegetable leathers, MacKenzie says that you can break off pieces of dried mushrooms "and again the flavours are so strong you can add them to a soup or stew."
She says when drying meat, poultry or fish all must be cooked before drying. "We have followed the current food safety precautions to cook all those products to well done and then we dry them."
As a food scientist, Mercer is an expert on food dehydration. "He did all the scientific testing of moisture levels in the food so we could be sure we were offering the correct instructions," MacKenzie says.
Drying their own food appeals to campers, hikers, cyclists and hunters, she adds, along with anyone who prefers to take advantage of local seasonal ingredients.