It would be nice to sit back and enjoy the after glow of the wedding but the farm chores we put on hold for a couple of days are demanding our fullest attention now. All the rain we had for wedding weekend gave our plants a healthy push ahead and we have spent several days catching up with weeding and securing sprawling plants. A rainy afternoon yesterday gave me the perfect opportunity to use my new dehydrator. I bought a nice one right before the wedding knowing I would need to expand my preservation skills this summer. It has 9 trays to accommodate a large amount of produce as well as a range of temperatures and a timer that starts at 2 hours and can be set for as long as 26 hours! That should give you an indication of how long it takes to dehydrate some foods.
Not everyone thinks about dehydrating turnips…you don’t often see them in the bins at places like Whole Foods where you can buy banana chips, apple chips and other assorted dried foods to snack on. I don’t really intend to snack on the turnip chips but rather it is important to me to figure out how to use them successfully over time next winter when the glut of fresh garden produce is only a fond memory. We have enjoyed eating lots of turnips out of the garden this spring but they are considered a cool season crop and they aren’t going to last too much longer in the heat of the summer. So we harvested 10 pounds yesterday and had a few additional pounds in the refrigerator to process 14 pounds all together. As usual, I compared several sources of information on how to dehydrate fruits and vegetables in general and then specifically turnips.
Just about all the produce you freeze or preserve is treated in such a way as to disable the active enzymes in the cell walls which stops the food from further degrading or breaking down after having been picked. You can do this in a variety of ways but for turnips, the options were to blanch, which means to quickly immerse in boiling water for a set number of minutes and then plunge into an ice bath or to steam blanch which I had never tried before. Since turnips are so watery to begin with and I’m an adventurous sort, I decided to try the steam blanch method. You can also dehydrate foods without blanching in order to enjoy raw or “living” foods since those are good for you to eat but you have to be careful to be extremely exact about the temperatures you use in the process. In reading about this, I’ve found that you can disable the enzymes but not entirely kill them. The enzymes in raw foods are healthy for you since they aid in the natural digestion process. You can find lots of information about this on line but I’m going to continue to eat as many raw foods while they are in season as I can and yet preserve the herbicide and pesticide free foods we grow as safely as I can for consumption in the off season.
But first I had to prepare my turnips just so. Our turnips are so tasty and fresh that we normally don’t need to even peel them. (They don’t look anything like the ones you see in the grocery that have been waxed to control the moisture content.) But my instructions all advised to peel them since the skin, when dehydrating will have a concentrated flavor and can turn bitter, so I took my carrot peeler and gave them a once over before slicing them. It is very important to slice foods the same thickness when dehydrating so that the drying time is consistent. I was trying for 3/8 inch slices. After getting several turnips sliced up, I put them in batches into the upper section of my largest steamer with about an inch of boiling water in the pot below and put a lid on it and steamed them for exactly 3 minutes. I then dumped the turnips into a waiting ice water bath to cool them down quickly. And then drained them in a colander before laying them out on the trays of the dehydrator. It took several hours to repeat this with all the turnips I had on hand but it was quite satisfying to get all nine trays loaded with turnips and ready to dry. The recommended time for drying turnips varied between sources. One book said 8-10 hours and another one had a slightly higher temperature for the first hour and then a shorter drying time. I was ever so thankful that the dehydrator I purchased operated on a timer since after all the work I put into this, I didn’t really want to be hanging around at midnight to shut off the machine! I checked on them before bed and they weren’t completely dry yet so it was with great joy this morning that I found them nicely dried out and cooled. Here is what 14 pounds (nine trays worth) of dehydrated turnips looks like now. I happily packaged them up in a zip lock bag and labeled them for storage in my dark pantry. They weighed a total of 12 oz which means they lost about 90% of their weight (remember I peeled them and cut off their stems too). This is an effect way to store food! Next winter I will rehydrate these in soups and stews. While the turnips were dehydrating I started preparing for the first eggplant Parmesan dinner of the season! As many of you know, we froze a lot of eggplants last year using my favorite recipe for this dish. It bears repeating here since it is outrageously good when eaten fresh or frozen and reheated. In fact, we found ourselves loving these eggplant slices eaten on buns as veggie burgers last winter. Here is the eggplant patch. With lots of fruits hiding under the large green leaves, waiting patiently to be picked. These were the two pounds of Burpee Black Beauty eggplants that volunteered for last night’s meal. I simply wash and slice them up and sprinkle them with kosher salt and let them sit for 45 minutes, weighted down in a colander in order to draw out some of the moisture. I then dry the slices on paper towels and wipe off the excess salt in the process. Then they take turns getting dipped into a peppery flour mixture, followed by an egg bath and finally get coated with a bread crumb and Parmesan cheese coating. This I do also in batches but here are the patties waiting to be cooked. The key to this recipe is that they are not fried, but rather baked in a small amount of oil. I have sheet pans heating up in the oven during the prep time and when ready to bake, I pull out the pans, add a small amount of oil to each and then the patties. These bake for a total of 30 minutes in a 425 degree oven, while I switch positions every 10 minutes. They come out looking like this. We ate as many of them as we could and froze the rest! Yummy! Today I’m off with Helen to work the bees while Jurgen is in Germany on business. We should find that the bees are working hard to replace all the honey that was extracted several weeks ago…455 pounds in total! I’ll hope to have a bee report soon! Happy one week anniversary, Kate and Jason!