Most of the time when I think of preserving food I think about canning, both hot water bath and pressure canning. I have a freezer which I also use. I own a food dehydrator. It's an Excalibur, which I purchased new 33 years ago! It was really expensive, about $100! They now sell for about $300. I certainly recommend Excalibur as reliable. Mine is used every month during the winter and almost continuously during the summer. For 33 years!
I have not been very creative when it comes to dehydrating. I dry surplus fruits and vegetables. I make lots of fruit roll-ups of all kinds of combinations. I've even used it to make yogurt. What I haven't done, which I should is spend more time drying things that I would otherwise put into the freezer or pressure canner. Things like soup, chili, or beans. I dry fruit roll-ups so why not spaghetti sauce? It's the same consistency and sure would take up a lot less space. Even meat leftovers can be dried. And, why wait for leftovers? If you get a good deal on hamburger then cook it up into crumbles and then dry it. It's not the same as freeze dried, which is so expensive, but it will work just fine in soup, chili, or whatever recipe you'd use hamburger in.
Have you ever thought about Minute Rice? You can make your own buy cooking a huge pot of rice the next time you make it for dinner. Then take the left over rice and put it into the dehydrator. It quickly dries out and the next time you need rice you can cook it up in an instant. Just boil water, put in your rice and in about five minutes you have rice. You can also throw it into a quick soup that you are making.
Today I stopped by Winco to pick up some gamma lids for my big buckets. They were out! I've never seen them completely out of gamma lids. It's no wonder, since their price is very reasonable. Winco has a large section of bulk food in bins. One of the things they have is dried refried beans. That got me to thinking about some of the things they sell in bulk. What's the difference in price if I buy it fresh or frozen and then dry it, as compared to just buying it dried in the bulk section?
I picked up 1/4 pound of dried refried beans - cost $1.00. Theirs are made of black beans; I use pinto beans. I am going to take a can of refried beans out of my home store and dry them - cost $1.00. I'm going to compare the two finished products to see how much more cost efficient it is to dry the canned beans rather than buy the already dehydrated beans. There is the small amount of electricity costs but I'm not going to include that in this comparison. I'm going to make up a batch of pinto beans and then refry them and then dry them. Obviously the dried beans, even at a dollar a pound will be the cheapest way to go. Having 100 pounds of dried beans is really comforting, but a lot of propane will be going into cooking those beans. Since we are in the "good" times right now and it isn't difficult to cook up a big pot of beans, I'm thinking that having a stash of cooked and dried is something I should keep on hand, in addition to my sacks of dried beans.
I'm also experimenting with drying some store bought vegetables. Normally I dry the extra fruits and vegetables I grow. Our latest project was drying lemons. They turned out great. It's easy to put one of the lemon slices into a cup of tea or a glass of water. Today I bought some frozen vegetables that were pretty inexpensive for frozen vegetables, I think, since I rarely buy vegetables! They all cost between 5 and 6 cents per ounce or 80 to 95 cents a pound. Now that's expensive compared to fresh, but I'm going for convenience here. I bought a package of corn, peas, green beans, broccoli bits, leaf spinach, and a pea/carrot mix. I want to see how much they weigh once they are dried.
The store had a "vegetable soup" mix that was carrots, onions, and a few other dried vegetables. That cost $6.00 a pound. I didn't buy any! It's cheaper buying it in bulk and packing it yourself rather than buying it in #10 cans. So I guess this experiment is to determine if it's cheaper to buy it frozen and dry it myself or buy it in bulk. Using homegrown, of course, will always be the cheapest but there are many people who due to where they live can't have a large garden. Having a dehydrator may be the way for them to go.
I was looking through my Excalibur operating instructions, yes I still have them from 33 years ago. One of their suggestions was to take a can of Chunky soup, and pour the whole can out onto the dehydrator tray that is covered with plastic wrap. When it's done just roll it up in the plastic wrap. Then when you want some soup just peel it off the plastic, put the soup in your bowl and add boiling water. Let it sit a bit then eat.
Drying is much cheaper than canning. You have to keep buying new lids, unless you use Tattler lids which are out of my price range. There aren't any expenses once you have the dehydrator, and if you live in an area that isn't too humid you don't even need a dehydrator, you can dry outside, but it's not feasible year round outside. You only need to cook up the amount that you actually need. No waste, no leftovers. Compare that to opening up a quart jar when you only need a cup!
Dried foods take up a lot less space than canned goods. You can put 10 bell peppers into an pint jar, which is about the size of a container that would hold two fresh bell peppers. Same goes with tomatoes. How many fresh tomatoes can you put into a pint jar? Maybe two or three? How about 10 if you dry them!
Dried foods will be darker in color than fresh, especially if you don't process them with citric acid or sulphur. I may put the peaches into a lemon juice bath to keep the color. Dried foods are sweeter. The sugars seem to concentrate when they dry. I think that a lot of foods taste better dry than fresh. I know the kids loved the pineapple that I dried the other day.