For Those Short on Space
Let’s face it, a lot of us, particularly those living in city apartments, are operating in less-than-spacious kitchens that have limited shelf space and even more limited freezer space. Canning and freezing fresh produce from our gardens (we wish we were that lucky!) or the neighborhood farmers market for use over the winter isn’t nearly as feasible under these conditions. Really, canning requires a big stove, lots of counter space, and a mighty hard working dishwasher.
Still, you don’t want to be left out of the “eat local” revolution for six whole months until Mother Nature decides to dust off her chilly snowy shawl. Cooks in by-gone days solved a similar problem by drying much of their summer harvests. As I recounted before, my grandmother is of the generation that dried a great deal of their food – she can still remember using an ice house as a little girl and the day she and my grandfather bought their first refrigerator for the house. They were considered very progressive in our small country town. She also remembers cooking on wood stoves and using the lovely low heat of dying coals to dry corn as I replicated the other week.
The beauty of dried vegetables is that they’ll keep for several months in something as informidable as a ziplock bag. No large cans to boil and stack to the ceiling. Dried veggies can be used much as you would the fresh version once they’re reconstituted after a soak in hot water. Rather, I should say that by all accounts from both my grandmother and from what I can dredge up online, dried veggies are going to make for some mighty fine winter eating.
The truth is, I’m just getting started with dried vegetables myself. So far I’ve tried tomatoes and corn, both of which dried beautifully. The tomatoes I’ve already used with success in some stuffed pumpkin blossoms. Now I’m trying sweet peppers. “Lipstick” red peppers to be exact – I love that name! We had a bunch leftover from the market this weekend and I thought it’d be worth a try to dry them since they’d not last long enough to eat all of them fresh.
They dried up perfectly – quite quickly in comparison to the tomatoes since there’s much less juice to contend with in pepper flesh. And I tasted one out of curiosity…major pepper flavor! The drying process definitely intensified the natural sugars. Now I just have to figure out what to do with them! I’m thinking of just throwing them into whatever I use the corn or tomatoes for…for instance, when I make a savory corn casserole with reconstituted corn, I’ll reconstitute some peppers too, dice them and stir them into the casserole. Or, if I use some reconstituted dried tomatoes in a stir fry, why not try some peppers too? I also think I might crumble up a handful and put them in the soup pot sometime for what will no doubt be a real punch of pepper flavor!
We’ll just have to wait and see together what comes of this drying series. It’s an experimental journey. I realize maybe you’re not ready to take it yourself for right now. That’s okay – I’m lucky enough to have the abundance of produce to experiment for the both of us. One thing’s for sure - I’m getting quite a nice collection of drying bags hanging from my pot rack.
OVEN DRIED (SWEET) PEPPERS
Begin by washing and drying the peppers. Cut off tops and remove the stems and seeds, as well as any of the white “ribs”. Quarter peppers and lay out, insides up, in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet.
Place in the oven and set the temperature on the lowest possible setting (ideally somewhere between 100 and 150 F). If you have an older gas stove with a larger pilot light, you may not even have to turn on the oven. Also, if you need to leave for awhile, you can turn off the oven and allow the peppers to sit in there for several hours and then return to drying by turning on the oven again.
Turning them over every hour or so for even drying, allow peppers to dry in the oven for about 8 hours, until all noticable moisture is gone. Don’t allow them to become overly brittle. Remove from oven and allow to cool before placing in a paper sack and hanging up to dry in your kitchen for a few days to remove any remaining moisture.
Place fully dried peppers in a ziplock bag or tin and store in your cupboards. To reconstitute, soak in hot water for three to five minutes.
(10 smallish peppers yielded about 1 cup of dried peppers)