Monday, August 30, 2010

Dried Swiss Chard Mother Nature Style

In June, I pulled the end of my Swiss Chard from last season and dried it in the oven. My new crop planted in April is just now starting to mature. I picked a few leaves for an experiment. Our cabin is getting about eight hours of direct warm sunlight, so I thought I would try some sun dried chard using Mother Nature's energy.

I consulted one of my preserving resource books Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow, Naturally by the Editors of Organic Gardening and Farming. I find it's a great reference for harvesting, storing, drying, freezing and canning fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and nuts, seeds and grains. But I did modify their directions a bit.

I pinched leaves off the plants with some stem still attached. Rather than use drying racks, I thought stringing the leaves up like herbs would speed the drying process. I used a needle and thread to separate and tie the chard leaves for hanging. The next time I don't need to leave so much space in between.

Stocking Up recommended blanching vegetables before drying. It preserves colour, nutrients and prepares the plant cells for the drying process. I gently lowered each string into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds. They lifted out without tangling and were ready to hang.

I took the strings of Swiss Chard outdoors to dry in the warm sunshine. It was a bit breezy as well, so I think that helped things get started. Several times I flattened out the leaves because they tended to fold over and stick together. By the end of the day, they were leathery but not dry. I took them indoors after the sun went down. That prevented dew from altering the hard work of the sun and to keep them away from hungry critters.

I hung the strings of Swiss Chard in the downstairs bedroom out of the way. Since I have to leave for a few days, that's where they will stay to complete the drying process. But I'm happy to report that they are already getting crispy around the edges.

I know it isn't a lot, but I think it was a successful experiment. As long as Mother Nature continues to supply some warm sunshine and a crop of chard, I can keep adding to my supply for winter use.

Do you do any drying of fruits or vegetables? I'd love to hear about your experiences. -- Margy