Fresh from the garden!
As many of you may know, last year we had a small garden. It was the first one I had planted in over 30 years and only the second one my daughter had ever planted. So, we went with a small 17 foot by 24 foot section in the back yard. Even though it was a small garden, we had a bumper crop of cucumbers, tomatoes, and green beans. We had such a good harvest that we had enough cucumbers to make and can some bread & butter pickles, as well as enough tomatoes to make and can some salsa. I also was able to dehydrate a couple of batches of the green beans. Well, because we had such a successful garden and we really enjoyed working on it together, we decided to go bigger this past spring so that we could plant more cucumbers and tomatoes to make more pickles and salsa!
Well, this year when the cucumbers started ripening and we were getting an over abundance of what we could eat up every few days, we discussed making some bread & butter pickles. Come to find out, my daughter and I had both been so freaked out last year about using her glass top stove for the canning process that we were both praying the whole time we were making and canning the pickles! We were both afraid the glass stove top was going to crack and crumble under the pressure of the pressure canner. We had had to go out and buy a pressure canner just to do water bath canning in because of the glass top on her stove. And, it just looked so huge and it was so heavy. Well, fortunately, we got through the two small canning sessions without any harm to the glass top on her stove.
However, we decided that we didn't really want to take a chance on using the pressure canner on her stove top again this year. In other words, we decided not to make bread & butter pickles or salsa via canning this year. I said I could just dehydrate the cucumbers and we could eat them like chips or use them in salads, or in recipes. Which got the gears going in my brain coming up with ideas on how to use the dehydrated cucumbers. And, a light bulb went off!
Cucumber Chips Experiment
Cucumber chips! I could make cucumber chips! They would be flavorful and make a nice, healthy snack and a good addition to our long term food storage. So, I set about looking up recipes for cucumber chips. The only problem was that every single recipe I found for cucumber chips called for using oil. I didn't want to use oil. It would be okay for short term storage of the cucumber chips, but I wanted long term storage as well. And, oil should not be used in dehydrated foods that will be stored long term. I almost gave up on the idea of flavored cucumber chips when I remembered how I used to slice cucumbers and put them in water with onions, vinegar, and sea salt. So, I thought...why not try making that and then dehydrating it? Well, glory be! That was an excellent idea! I would put the ingredients all together in a bowl and let them soak overnight in the refrigerator so that all of the flavors would blend. Then the next morning I would drain and rinse the cucumbers, spin them in my salad spinner to get rid of the excess liquid, and dehydrate them! So, that's what I did. I did taste a few the next morning before dehydrating them and they tasted really, really good. So, I figured we were good to go. I put the cucumbers on the dehydrator trays and sprinkled the tops with sea salt to give them a little extra salty flavor like chips. Several hours later when they were completely dehydrated, I gave them a taste. They were okay, but they just didn't taste like the cucumbers did before dehydrating. My daughter and I decided it must have been too much of the sea salt I had sprinkled over the tops of them. So, I chalked that up to Cucumber Chips Experiment One.
Cucumber Chips Experiment Two went pretty much the same, except that I used less vinegar, onions and salt in the ingredients. Just on a hunch as I was preparing them. Those turned out better, but still not quite what I was wanting them to taste like. So, I tabled the flavored cucumber chips idea to figure out at a later time and that is what has brought me to today's blog.
Dehydrating Cucumber Slices
I decided to just try dehydrating cucumber slices with no added ingredients to see how they would turn out. And, they turned out perfectly! They're crunchy and they taste just like a cucumber! Success!! Yay!!
I want to quickly walk you through how I dehydrated the plain cucumber slices. After all, I kind of walked you through the two experiments with the cucumber chips, so why not share with you how I made successful dehydrated cucumber slices, right?
To begin, I washed and dried my cucumbers. Then, leaving the skins on, I sliced them around one-eighth inch thick. You can use a mandoline slicer to slice them, but I tried using mine and the slices were too thin. So, I just used my paring knife. Some will say to try and slice them uniform, as they will dehydrate faster. But, I find that doesn't make a whole lot of difference as long as they are close to size. Any that were sliced too thick, or too thin, I just popped them in my mouth and ate them, lol. Honestly, there weren't that many!
I sliced them until I had enough to fill a three quart bowl. Which took about 8 pickling cucumbers (see the pic of cucumbers above to get an idea of the size used). This bowl is what I use most to help me determine what will fit in the dehydrator. This bowl filled is pretty much equivalent to the amount I can fit on the six trays in my dehydrator. I've found that it helps to have some sort of a guideline to use with knowing how much of the fresh fruit or vegetables I need to fill the trays. My three quart bowl works great for that!
Once the bowl was filled, I started laying the cucumber slices onto my dehydrator trays. I was careful not to overlap any of the cucumber slices on the trays because overlapping them will cause the cucumbers to take much longer to dehydrate. You may wonder what I have on my dehydrator trays in the picture to the right. I use teflon baking sheets on my dehydrator trays so that food does not stick to nor fall through the trays. These particular baking sheets are washable/reusable and can be cut to size to fit any dehydrator trays. I also use them on my old dehydrator trays that are rectangle with a hole in the center. (NOTE: Link is provided as a courtesy. I am not affiliated in any way with Amazon other than being a paying customer.)
When the trays were filled and in the dehydrator, I set the temperature to 125 degrees Fahrenheit and set the timer for 12 hours. Using the timer on your dehydrator is different than using a timer on your oven or microwave. Not all foods dehydrate exactly as recommended. There are many different things that can affect the time it takes to dehydrate. For example, the type of dehydrator being used, heat and humidity in the room/area you are dehydrating, thickness of the food items, crowding, overlapping, etc. So, I sat the timer for 12 hours as a reminder, but I checked the progress every couple of hours throughout the day because I like to see how they change and shrink, lol.
After about 5 hours in, I did take out each of the trays and flipped over each and every one of the cucumber slices. As it turned out, it ended up taking a total of around 14 hours for my cucumber slices to be fully dehydrated. But, at around 12 hours when they were starting to look pretty dry, but were still a little flimsy and bendable, I would take one out and let it cool for about half an hour. If it became crispy after the cooling down time, then they were done! You will know when they are done because they will be crispy and break easily. If they don't do that then leave them in the dehydrator and keep checking until they are done. You could easily put the cucumber slices in your dehydrator in the evening and let them dehydrate overnight and then check them in the morning!
Once the cucumber slices were done/dried, I turned off the dehydrator, opened the door, and let them cool down for about half an hour. Then, I emptied the trays into a canning jar and put the lid on. After that, I put them in my cupboard (a dark place) and left them there for a couple of days. I checked throughout each of those two days to make sure there was no moisture built up in the jars. I shook the cucumber slices around in the jars and checked to make sure no moisture drops were on the glass. This is called “conditioning”. If there was any moisture showing up on the glass jar, I would have put all of the cucumber slices back into the dehydrator for another couple of hours, let them cool down, and put them in canning jars and repeat conditioning. Since there was no moisture on the glass jars, I sealed the lids using my food saver and jar attachment.
Of course, when I checked the cucumber slices to see if they were done, I did eat those once they were cooled down. I discovered that they did exactly what I was hoping they would do and tasted just like a cucumber! It was a complete success!!
Rehydrating the cucumber slices
Whew! That sure took a long time to walk you through the process! But, hang in there, I'm not done yet! Today, when I started writing this blog article I got the idea to rehydrate some of those cucumber slices and share with you how that turned out! So, just bear with me a few more moments.
I placed a few of the dehydrated cucumber slices into a bowl with about an inch of cold tap water in it. I let the cucumbers set in the bowl of water for about half an hour. And, viola! They were a bit more flimsy than before being dehydrated, but they were actually crispy (not soggy) like a fresh cucumber and tasted just like when they were fresh! (See pic below for how they looked once they were rehydrated.) Oh my gosh! I was totally surprised!
So, the dehydrated cucumbers can be used in their crunchy dehydrated state, or rehydrated and used just like you would fresh cucumber slices! And, if stored properly (in an air tight container with the oxygen removed and placed in a cool, dry, dark place) they should last for years!
I'm really looking forward to experimenting with our dehydrated cucumbers! All kinds of ideas and recipes to try are popping up in my mind! I can't wait to share some of those with you!
So, even though we won't be making bread & butter pickles again this year, we will be able to preserve our bumper cucumber crop. What are some of the ways that you are preserving your garden cucumbers? Let me know in the comment section below.
Until next time...happy prepping, and God bless!
Proverbs 1:5, "A wise person will hear and increase in learning,
And a person of understanding will acquire wise counsel" (NASB)
DISCLAIMER: None of the cucumber slices referred to in this blog article were harmed or thrown out. Those that were a result of Experiments 1 and 2 will be used as salad toppings and eaten as they were intended. Those used in making the plain dehydrated cucumber slices will be used in multiple recipes.
How to Dehydrate Cucumbers
Cucumbers (approximately 8 pickling cucumbers or 4-5 straight 8 type cucumbers)
Wash and dry cucumbers. Do not peel.
Slice cucumbers into 1/8 inch (approximate) slices.
Place cucumber slices on dehydrator trays in a single layer. Do not crowd them.
Put trays with cucumbers on them into dehydrator.
Set dehydrator temperature to 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dehydrate for approximately 12 hours, or until dry and crispy. (Check for dryness by taking one of the bigger slices out of the dehydrator and letting it cool for about half an hour. If it is crispy, they are done. If it is still bendable and pliable, keep dehydrating until they test done.)
Once dry, let them all cool down and then place in canning or other glass jar. Condition for approximately 48 hours (see above on how to condition).
Remove air from jar using food saver with jar attachment or place an oxygen absorber in the jar with the cucumber slices and screw the lid on tight.
Place in a cool, dry, dark area for long term storage.