At three am I woke to the smell of strawberry air. The gentle, soft essence of strawberries was coming from the kitchen. Not the fake, nasty chemical version you find in lip balms, candles or air fresheners, which in my opinion doesn’t have the remotest connection to a true strawberry, but rather the air in my house was filled with scent of real strawberries because I was making Strawberry Chips, and they take all night to make. Our neighbor Joyce had loaned us her dehydrator and I was trying my hand at preserving strawberries in a slightly different way than the strawberry fruit leather I made in my last post.
I’d eaten dehydrated and dried fruit before, but I had never actually encountered a dehydrator in person. They’re huge! Most of my kitchen equipment is the size of a baby, while this sucker was the size of a large toddler. And Joyce’s dehydrator is jacked up like the kitchen equivalent of a monster truck with so many extra tiers it may require a special license to operate. I ended up setting the dehydrator on a card table rather than on my kitchen counter since I wasn’t sure how much clearance the machine would need.
Before you can turn it on you have to get the food into similar sizes. Dehydrators do the work of sucking most of the moisture out of whatever food you put in them, but they don’t prep it for you. That’s just a lot of old-fashioned slicing and dicing. My husband told me Joyce cuts her fruit with a mandoline to get even slices (which theoretically would then have similar drying times), which makes total sense because Joyce is a physicist and does things scientifically. I chose to go rogue and cut my strawberries by hand. I’m such a wild thing. She also recommended a longer drying time at a lower temperature to preserve more of the vitamins. I did follow that suggestion, which is why I woke up at three am smelling strawberry air.
Before you decide to borrow your neighbor’s dehydrator I need to tell you that strawberry chips are the fruit equivalent of crack cocaine. You will become addicted to them. The good news is there are no withdrawal symptoms, well until strawberry season ends and you realize there are only strawberries from California or Florida to dehydrate and you go nuts and decide to plow under your entire lawn so you can plant every inch of your yard in strawberries. Not that you actually do it, but the lack of more local berries to dehydrate makes you seriously consider the option for a minute or two. I’m just warning you.
There is not a whole lot of recipe here. Take 2-4 quarts of strawberries, depending on how many tiers your dehydrator has, and after removing the stems slice them into 1/4 inch pieces. On my second batch I threw the outer slices into a bag which went into the freezer for smoothies, since the outer pieces seemed to dehydrate at a different rate than the inner pieces. You could slice horizontally or vertically – your choice depending on if you want circles or strawberry shapes, I chose the latter. Dehydrate on the low end of the spectrum, 105 – 115ºF for 12-14 hours depending on how juicy your strawberries are. When cool, store in small batches in baggies with the air sucked out.
If you’d rather not go to all the effort of sucking the moisture out of your strawberries you can enjoy them the old fashioned way which my friend Jane Lear did with her husband in this post. Or you can do what Shawn and I did last week when the kids were out one evening with friends. We just opened a chilled bottle of Prosecco and ate a bowl of strawberries au naturel as we sipped our bubbly.