Preserved Home: Use your melon — preserve it

An entire watermelon can be preserved in several jars, which can last for a summer treat all season. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

An entire watermelon can be preserved in several jars, which can last for a summer treat all season. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

2013_COLUMN_WOOLFREYSummer is in full swing, and that means experimenting with my dehydrator. I have two dehydrators, and they will be running all summer and fall. With this versatile kitchen tool, I preserve fruits, vegetables, meat and even grains. One of my most unique put-ups is dehydrated watermelon.

I enjoy making the unexpected happen with my dehydrator. When dehydrated, watermelon tastes like a Jolly Rancher. It’s delicious, and starts rehydrating in your mouth. And don’t bother picking out the seeds, those are a crunchy treat.

Don’t stop with just watermelon. You can also dehydrate honeydew, cantaloupe or any melon. We recently bought a cantaloupe that had such little flavor, we found it inedible. Being my frugal self, I cut the cantaloupe in small chunks and dehydrated the melon. Results? Delicious and sweet.

There are a few different ways you can dehydrate melons. For longer-term storage, you want the melon to be more brittle. If you plan on eating your dehydrated melon in the near future, you can pull the trays when the melon is still chewy and bends, but not wet. The length of time it takes to dehydrate anything is dependent on the model of dehydrator, the food type, and also how small you cut the food. I cut melons two ways, in one-quarter-inch pieces or in little chunks. For melons, set your dehydrator at 135 degrees, and expect about 8 hours until it’s ready.

I store my dehydrated foods in canning jars and vacuum seal the tops. You need a special (inexpensive) attachment for your vacuum sealer to make the jars airtight.

Sometimes I’ll make a dried fruit salad for my children. I’ll mix dehydrated watermelon, pineapple, honeydew, strawberries and other fruits, and store in snack bags for a quick on-the-go munchie. While I’ve never put dehydrated melon “in” anything, I do use dehydrated peaches, strawberries, apples and pineapples in homemade instant oatmeal, granola bars, quick breads and trail mix. When cooked in a baked good or oatmeal, the fruit rehydrates beautifully.

Dried fruit purchased in the store often seems to have a sickening sweet coating. You don’t need to add sugar to dehydrated fruit, as the drying process condenses the natural sugar. And you don’t need to treat fruits with acid to prevent browning for dehydration purposes. I do coat apples and peaches with cinnamon or apple pie spice before dehydrating. Try dehydrating mango with a spicy mix for a different treat.

For dehydrating fruits such as blueberries or grapes, you must break the skin. Instead of cutting each piece of fruit in half, freeze the fruit. The low temperature breaks down the fruit’s skin enough to quicken the dehydrating process.

Don’t have a dehydrator? There are two shapes, round and square. I have one of each. The round dehydrators have a fan in the top, which means you have to rotate trays once or twice. The round dehydrators don’t work as quickly, either. Another downfall is the round shape makes fruit leather more difficult to remove. Despite all of the downfalls, my round Nesco dehydrator works very well, and it’s the least expensive option.

The square Excalibur dehydrator is more expensive, and it commands more counter space. However, those are the only cons to choosing this model. I have a nine-tray Excalibur dehydrator, which is fashioned with a fan on the inside, back. The fan distributes hot air to all the trays evenly, dehydrating the food much faster than the top-fan model. Also, leathers peel off easier with the square trays. With the square model, you can also take out all the trays and use the machine as a yogurt maker.

In regard to energy usage, a dehydrator takes the same energy as a light bulb.

Dehydrating food allows me to stock up on produce when it’s in season, which saves money. While I also can foods, dehydrating saves shelf space and is a quicker solution to preserving food than canning. When faced with boxes of produce from the farmers market, it’s much less daunting to know I can use my dehydrator as another preserving method.

Saving money by stocking up when produce is in season with the help of a dehydrator — now that’s using your melon.

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem is a former North County resident who produces the Preserved Home blog. Visit www.preservedhome.com. Send questions and comments to [email protected].