Dried Okra? I Need This in My Life!

This post contains affiliate links. 

We got out first dehydrator as a gift when we lived in Florida a few years back. I don’t know the brand name, but it was one of the “most recommended” ones on Amazon and came complete with a jerky maker, fruit leather maker, and more. We successfully dried one batch of apples (and ate them all while watching TV one night). From that point on though, nothing seemed to want to dry, no matter what setting we used or how long we left it.

When we moved, we gifted the dehydrator to my sister’s husband who only wanted it for the jerky maker. We were going though a dry spell (no pun intended) on food preservation anyway and it was just taking up space. At the time, we thought we’d never want or need another one, simply because our track record with dehydrating foods was so lackluster, but a few months ago, we watched a video on dehydrating okra.

Okra? Yes!

It was so fascinating to us that we wanted to try it. So we asked the only person we know with a dehydrator – a person who also happened to have grown 70 okra plants this year – to try it for us. I’m sure Angie’s mom spent a great deal of time drying okra for us, but by the time it arrived in the mail (it got lost), moisture had gotten to it and the okra was molded. It was time for Plan B.

We searched garage sales and thrift stores for a dehydrator but none were to be found, so one afternoon, I started looking on Amazon. The woman in the okra video was using a machine that had no temperature settings. It was plug-and-play, so to speak. Part of me thought, this thing can’t work. How’s it going to know the difference between drying apples and herbs? But, the decision was made when I saw the price of the dehydrator. We got an open box bargain for $30.

We don’t often buy new things and we’ve been limiting our online purchases this year (to cut down on packaging and our carbon footprint) so we waited until we needed a few other things before buying the dehydrator. Now you may be thinking it’s pretty silly to spend $30 to try something weird, like dried okra, especially when you can use your own oven as a dehydrator, and I don’t disagree. If we lived anywhere else, I might trust our oven to heat something for hours at a time but I firmly believe our oven is possessed. Once it came on in the middle of the night and would not turn off. Another time, simply turning it on blew the fuse. Though maintenance has fixed it (and even replaced it once), it still sounds like there’s an electrical fire waiting to happen in the wall every time we turn it on. And the apples we tried to dry, under careful supervision on 170 degrees, burnt to a crisp in 2 hours. Yet, it took more than 2 hours to cook two stuffed peppers a few weeks ago – on 350 degrees!

Minimalists, we may be, but when we have a plan to make use of something, we have no issue with getting it. So we did. Which leads me once again to do something I don’t normally do – recommend a product.

We bought the Presto Dehydro, a super simple 4-tier dehydrator. You literally layer the fruit or veggies you want to dry, put the lid on, and plug it in. The drying times in the book are fairly accurate. Though okra wasn’t on the list, it took about 7 hours to dry.

Was it worth it? Oh yes! Dried okra tastes like air-popped popcorn and makes a wonderful snack.

But that wasn’t the end of our drying adventure. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we’re in the midst of dumpster season. The grocery store next door is tossing out good stuff with a vengeance and we are out of freezer space already. The dehydrator has been a lifesaver. So far, it has saved the lives of 20 pounds of bananas, 10 pounds of strawberries, and 10 pounds of apples. (We also dried 5 pounds of mushrooms, though they did not come from the dumpster.)

Unlike our other dehydrator (or even the expensive one that Angie’s mom owns), this machine returns a quality product, time after time. I love the fact that there’s no temperature setting. There’s no guesswork, no trying to determine whether 140 degrees is best for apples or 150 degrees. I can’t say it enough – you plug it in and let it go. At first, we set timers to check on things as they dried but then, we quickly learned that plugging it in right before bed resulted in perfectly dried fruits by morning. The temperature of the Dehydro is approximately 165 degrees.

Herbs are easy too. We dried a tray of fresh dill (on parchment paper) in the time that it took us to do the evening dishes – about 30 minutes.

Another thing that bugged me about our other dehydrator was the space that it took up in storage. This unit is larger but takes up less space because the trays nest inside one another and the unit can sit sideways in the box.

What about energy consumption? Our electricity rates are about 1/4 lower than the national average so it costs approximately 6 cents an hour to run our dehydrator. The national average is 7.2 cents. The bigger savings though comes when you compare the dehydrator to the oven. It costs 24 cents an hour to operate our oven. That means that we get 4 hours in the dehydrator for every hour in the oven. Not bad!

But, you want to know what really made the whole purchase worth it?

We took Addison to the Tennessee State Museum last week and walked over to the Nashville Farmer’s Market for a picnic lunch. That morning, Angie had packed her a little cup of dried bananas and strawberries. It was her first time to try them and her face lit up when she did. As she reached for more, she looked up at us and said, “I need these in my life.”

She’s four years old.

Where on Earth she picks up these things, I don’t know, but in this case, I couldn’t agree more. For as good as the okra turned out to be, there’s nothing in this world more tasty than a crispy dried strawberry chip. You really need to try it. You may find that you need them in your life too!

Life Lessons from a Farmer in VA

We were watching a Q&A session with Joel Salatin a few days ago on Youtube. If you aren’t familiar with Joel Salatin – he’s a farmer in Virginia. I mean, aside from being a vocal advocate for sustainable farming, the author of a dozen books, and the man featured in most of Michael Pollan’s work – he’s just a farmer in Virginia.

He operates a farm. He raises his own food. He teaches others to do the same. He is a farmer in Virginia.

And he is successful.

Now, try as I might, I have never read one of Joel’s books, though I do admire his style of farming. What I admire more though, is something that he said in his interview. He was talking about slippage – how things fall through the cracks on the farm when you can’t attend to them every day. Vegetables rot on the vine, calves are born and die without human intervention, and fields are left fallow. It’s very hard to be successful if you’re a casual farmer.

As I heard that, I thought – heck, it’s hard to be successful if you are a casual gardener! Weeds won’t wait. It doesn’t always rain when you want it to. Things go crazy all at once.

Hmmm…

Just like life.

Now, you don’t have to be a farmer (or a gardener) to know just how true it is that things fall through the cracks if you can’t attend to them every day. I’m sure if you check those cracks right now, something fell through them this very day. Take my day – I started out with the good intention of working on a grant for one of my freelance clients and then taking a walk, but neither of those things happened. Phone calls, minor emergencies, a trip to the store, and spending way too much time figuring out lunch – now, that’s what didn’t fall though the cracks today.

It occurred to me as I was watching my day get away, that I may I need to organize my time better. But I know, that’s not true. Even the most organized person can’t do it all. It also occurred to me that I may need to put my own needs and interests aside to take care of more pressing concerns, but that’s not true either. In fact, the one sure thing I’ve learned from doing that in the past is that the “pressing concerns” only continue to press even more when you start putting them first. It even occurred to me to think that setting proper boundaries might help me get more done with my day. And maybe it would. But that’s not really the problem either.

Focus. That’s the real issue here. Since I left my job, I haven’t really had any. I’ve been trying to make sure we stay ahead of the curve financially, trying to spend more of my free time with family, trying to cram in all the things I always wanted to do but couldn’t because work took up my weekdays, and all the while trying to maintain the same balance we had before. As Joel Salatin might say, “Folks, this ain’t normal!”

If I were to really get down and think about it, I’m pretty sure I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off these past few weeks and all because I haven’t quite settled into my new life yet. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I might be a little afraid to settle in – like somewhere in the back of my mind, I still think this is just a temporary thing. Ah, fear…she’s not exactly the kind of creature one needs on a farm (or anywhere else really).

If I don’t work on anything income producing at all this week, we’re not going to go broke. I know that in my head, but the “fear of failure” is a very real thing. Which brings me back to the Q&A video with Joel.

In the early 1980s, Joel Salatin and his wife made what most people would have considered a crazy decision. They took their nest egg of $10,000 and quit work to farm full time. Their great big plan was to live so frugally that the money would last one full year. When asked if he was afraid of failing, Joel said something so profound, it will probably stick with me forever.

He said that back then he looked around him at the people who were hiring workers. All of them wanted one thing – someone who would show up, do an honest days work, and come back the next day. He thought – if that’s the bar they’re setting, I qualify for any job out there and folks would be happy to have me. With that mindset, he felt a sense of security. If he failed at farming, he would just get a job. Maybe not the best job out there, but with his work ethic, he knew he’d climb any ladder set in front of him, and climb it quickly.

If you don’t know the rest of the story, Joel and his wife made that $10,000 last two years, and by the third year, they were breaking even on the farm.

Joel Salatin is successful because stayed focused on what he wanted and not on fear.

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few years I got up in the morning and begrudgingly opened my computer to see what email greeted me, what task lay ahead, and what deadline was looming. And every day, I would tell myself that I was doing it all for a greater purpose. True or not, that’s how I made it through. I focused on what I wanted – a simple life, where I had the time to spend with family, the time to learn new things, the time to try new recipes, the time to work on things that gave me a sense of worth, and most importantly, the time to breathe. 

Nearly a month ago, I stepped off the career train onto the platform that was to be that simple life and in the days since, I’ll be honest – I’ve struggled a bit. It’s been like waking up on Christmas morning to a giant pile of new toys and not knowing which to play with first. And if you’ve ever been that kid (or the mom of that kid), you know how the scene unfolds – we try to play with everything all at once!

But we are human beings, all of us, and we cannot possible do everything that we think we want, need, or plan to do. At least not all at once, and sometimes not even in this lifetime. The best we can do is try, and cut ourselves some slack when we don’t meet our own expectations.

That’s my pep talk to myself this week. Slow down. Breathe. Trust the plan.

There’s great reward in patience.

Just ask a farmer.


Interested in watching the Q&A video? Here you go…