Editors Note: I’m pleased as punch to welcome our newest Community Voice!
Ida Walker is a freelance editor and author. She’s also behind Ida’s Artisan Kitchen and the blog The Enabling Cook. She loves to make cheese, bread, sausage, bread, beer, hot sauce, jelly, and jam, among other things. She also dehydrates, ferments, cans, and smokes (food)
I love this time of year. Oh not the heat and humidity, thank you very much. But I do love the local produce coming into my garden, the farmers’ market, and the locavore store. It certainly makes buying local much easier.
But what about when there’s an overabundance of food in your CSA box or that you just can’t pass up? Some of the most common preservation methods are freezing and canning. One of my favorite techniques, however, is dehydrating fruits and vegetables. That way I can enjoy it year-round.
As nice as it is to use locally grown produce, that’s not all you can dehydrate. In fact, one of my favorite things to dehydrate is celery. I’ve not found any in my local farmers’ market. I’ve not had any luck growing it in my garden. And before you remind me it can be regrown in the kitchen, well, tried that and no luck there, either. So if I want celery, I have to get it at the grocery store.
But why dehydrate it? Why not buy it when you need it? I use a lot of celery. A lot. I’m not a celery snacker; I do like some chopped up in salads, including tuna, egg, and potato salads. In my case, most of the celery I buy goes into soups and stews. Buying celery in the grocery store can be very expensive, even if you don’t go for the organic celery. I try to take advantage of sales. A local grocery store often has it buy one get one free or even 10 for $10.00. Considering a single bunch is usually around $3.00 at that store, it’s a bargain. If you can use it before it’s past its prime.
Enter dehydration. Celery is one of the easiest vegetables to dehydrate: wash, chop, dry, and store. You’ll have celery on demand.
When prepping the celery, cut off the wide, bottom end of the stalks. These are usually more difficult to dehydrate and can be almost rubbery. But don’t throw them away. Use them fresh in salads. Chop off any discolored portion of the top—but not the leaves! Celery leaves are so underappreciated. Include them in your dehydration. You can chop your stalks any size, but try to anticipate how you’re going to use them. I find about ¼ to ½ inch works best for me. Whatever size you choose, cut them in consistent sizes.
When I dehydrate smaller things, I place a mesh screen onto the trays. This helps prevent things falling through the slits in the trays. Because my dehydrator is round, I purchased trays specially made for it. I’ve read you can use plastic canvas mesh for this, but I’ve not tried it.
When your celery is prepped and in the dehydrator, set it at the temperature recommended by its manufacturer. Usually a temperature between 125 and 135 degrees works well.
How long will it take to dehydrate? It depends on the moisture in the food, size of the pieces, and ambient temperature and humidity. I usually set the dehydrator just before going to bed. For celery, I find it usually takes between 8 and 10 hours to dry.
When dry, my celery is much smaller. But in a good way. After my most recent celery session, 2½ large bunches of celery fit in a smallish Fido container. Let it cool and store in an airtight container. You can store in a plastic bag and vacuum seal, but remember, if a sealer can crush a soda can, it can pulverize your dehydrated celery!
Now that I have this dried celery, how am I going to use it? As I mentioned before, I use dehydrated celery mostly in soups and stews. If I’m using it in a slow-cooked dish, I don’t bother rehydrating it. I just toss it in with the rest of the ingredients and let it go. If I need it in something that doesn’t take as long to cook, rehydrating is the way to go. Just place what you need in a bowl and add an equal amount of hot water. How long it takes depends on how dry it is. It can take an hour or more. If you’re using it in a dish with liquid, it doesn’t have to be completely rehydrated; just give it a jump-start. Keep in mind it will not become like it was before you dried it. You might not want to snack on it alone.
I make a lot of spice and herb blends, and I use ground dehydrated celery in many of them. Although you can grind your celery after it’s cooled from dehydrating, I usually grind it when I need it. Whatever works for you.
Saving money is a great thing. But having something when you want it is important, too. Dehydrating foods, especially ones you use a lot, ultimately saves time and allows you to expand your culinary chops.