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Back in 2009 I think I thought I was about to become a complete Earth Mother type. I had now got 2 children under 3, and we had spent a good part of January converting a rockery into a raised bed, ready to grow lots of our own veggies.
I got to reading around online to see what sort of things you needed to do, and lots of people were talking about having a glut of their home grown fruit and veggies, and how to deal with excess. It seemed to fit into 3 camps. Those who freeze any leftovers, those who are into canning (which is a more American way of doing it than British), and those who use a dehydrator.
I got it into my head we were going to have so much excess I would not be able to use it up quickly, and while freezing is good, I thought having a dehydrator too might help me make some delightful snacks for the kids. Old brown bananas? No more, because I was going to have my own healthy banana chips. I saw some machines were more than I wanted to pay, but I was recommended this Laser 2000 model by an online friend, and was advised to buy it from a website called Westfalia. It was around £40 at the time, and is currently £33.99, with a £4.99 delivery and insurance charge, which is still good value for money. When I was googling the dehydrator to add to Dooyoo, I noticed there were quite a few on ebay, either old auctions or current, so if you really do want one, it might be as good to do it that way.
===What is a Dehydrator?===
A dehydrator is something that removes mositure. Most fruits and vegetables have a lot of water content, and tend to go over-ripe and rot within a few days if just left. By using a dehydrator to remove the majority of the water, you are left with an edible snack that has the nutritional value of the original product, but will last a lot longer if you store it in a suitable way in an airtight tub.
This particular model is very simple in design, easy to use, and not particularly attractive to look at, so I make sure I have some cupboard space and then hide the beast at the back of the cupboard where no-one can see it. If it was out on the side, I know my friends and family would first of all want to know what it was because it is something they won't have seen before, and then they would laugh at my incredible old fashioned lifestyle. It's easier to hide it.
It is a round, white plastic appliance, which is 12 inches in diameter, and about 7 inches in height, consisting of 3 different types of section. The bottom is a solid tray on 4 little legs so it is raised off the surface it is sitting on. I always feel more confident with a hot appliance that a bit of air is circulating around it.
The top section (lid) loosely sits on top of the appliance. It is the heaviest part of the machine, as it contains all the electrically operated components. The plug goes into this section, and a large on/off slide switch operates the machine. This is the only control option available. Turning the machine on, you would think you had switched a hair dryer on. You wouldn't be far wrong. The centre of this section has what is indeed like a hairdryer. Heated air is blown down into the machine, and it is this action which causes the moisture to be removed from your food.
Between the lid and base, there are 5 plastic trays which have a hole in the middle for the fan to sit in, and they have a mesh type appearance. This is so the air can circulate around in the machine.
===My experiences using the dehydrator:===
I have used the machine on a handful of occasions, which were mainly in the first 6 months or so of purchase. My kids were both willing to munch on any type of dried fruit bought in the shop, so I was very eager to get our own produce into them. I know a lot of shop bought products are doused in chemicals such as sulphur dioxide which helps to give them a shelf life of months and years if you don't open the bag. I was aware I wouldn't replicate this exactly at home, but I hoped to get close in terms of appearance and texture, and save myself an absolute fortune.
I personally like the food that has come out of it, but the kids have never really enjoyed it for several reasons. The first is that some of the foods I was drying were not looking that nice. Apples and bananas in particular went an oxidised brown colour, and while they tasted fine to me, you can't get kids to eat things if they don't like the look of them. My second problem was texture. Banana chips bought in a shop have a very firm crunch, and I could never get anywhere close to this. They would be bendy, and very chewy.
I was also a bit disillusioned as I thought it would be more like using a slow cooker. Put your food in, and then walk away and leave it. Come back later, to yummy smells and even yummier food. This was far from the case. This machine needs you to move the trays about during the process to ensure that all the food is drying evenly, otherwise you might end up with some more dry than others.
Also, although this never got scalding hot (it is heating your food at about 75 degrees celsius), I did feel uneasy about leaving something that was basically a giant hair dryer on all day (I found it needed at least 6-8 hours) without me being at least in the house in case there was a problem. There is an overheating protection built in, and the venilation because it is not tight fitting and it is raised, but I never felt completely at ease.
I was also conscious it is not ideal to have something using 250 watts left on for so many hours. While I would have done so more readily if the kids had loved the end product and it saved me money in other ways, I didn't feel I could justify it as the produce would need eating more quickly than bought dried food (6-8 weeks I'd say).
I think you could probably get better results than I did. I know you can brush apples with lemon juice to stop them going brown, I'm not sure if you could do the same to bananas. And I also thought that althought I followed instructions and chopped the fruit thinly and spread it out thinly in a single layer, I am pretty sure that they were too thick to dry out well. Perhaps if I had cut them thinner or left on even longer, I could have got closer to the effect I desired.
I have not ebayed my machine yet as I still think I might try it again if we get a glut. I might have better results with soft berries compared to what I have tried, and if I had more time to think about how thickly I chopped it. However, I can't see it ever being more than a novelty appliance for me because we don't ever have the glut of produce I imagine. It is probably much better if you had an allotment.