By

Harbor Freight Dehydrator – all things considered a good value

Dehydrator tray of tomatoes

Dehydrator tray of tomatoes

Among the food preservation techniques dehydration has to be one of the easiest, and that alone should merit it’s incorporation into your household, and the dehydrators sold by Harbor Freight offer a reasonable entry point to do just that.

I’ll say right now – these five tray units run about $20 when coupons and the frequent specials get figured in.  That’s cheap.  Now the current models aren’t anything fancy – just basically a 125 Watt heating element in the bottom, five plastic trays and a top.  The previous model which featured a fan and a turntable type setup for the trays was about the same price, but in my experience does and equally OK job.

Current HF dehydrator, and previous model (L & R)

Current HF dehydrator, and previous model (L & R)

Now, it appears some folks have received units that overheated pretty much at startup.  I’ve never had that happen but you’d probably do well to start it up for the first time during a period where you could observe it and if problems happen bring it back and swap it for another one.  The other issue has to do with the durability of the trays.  To be sure these trays are fragile – you have to treat them carefully or they will break.  BUT, this is a $20 dehydrator.  Spend five times as much and you can get the bottom of the line Excalabur… or you can build one easily enough, but even that approach is likely to run you more than $20 not factoring in your time.

I have a really big homebuild dehydrator – but it only really gets called out when we’re in prime harvest season.  Otherwise one or both of my Harbor Freight dehydrators are going to be doing the work for me.  During the summer that is often drying tomatoes or zucchini for fall soups and dressings.  In the fall and winter more often than not they are drying apple slices we’ve peeled, sliced and frozen or making apple leather from some of the apple sauce we’ve put down.  It doesn’t take much time to pay off the $20 investment when you are making dried fruit.

So if you don’t have a dehydrator or want another one consider the Harbor Freight units – they aren’t fancy, they aren’t really solid but the price factor means they possess significant value.

By

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids – Great But Tricky

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids

Tattler Reusable Canning Lids

I’ve been canning for years – small batches when I lived with my parents that then grew to be a bit larger when I got out on my own, and by a bit I mean I’d do things like I’d use my big outdoor gas burner and converted stainless steel keg to make 10 gallons of marmalade, jam, canned fruit or other preserves whenever some product became available for a great price.  Enough to share with friends and family and last a couple of years.

All of that processing was boiling water bath canning and quite often I would reuses the rubber gasketed steel lids for several batches – until it appeared that they were deteriorating or they failed to seal.  That worked very well for me and saw a minimum of new lids purchased every year.

Tattler lid and gasket on a jar of apple pectin

Tattler lid and gasket on a jar of apple pectin

But then I picked up an All-American pressure canner – the really big one.  It’s a great tool and has been great for making homemade low cost convenience foods.  The value derived from being able to can up turkey stock alone has been huge.

However, there is no way that you can reuse a metal lid from a pressure canned jar.  The vacuum is so great that inevitably they are bent enough that the risk of failure were they to be reused is great enough that it makes more sense to recycle them once the jar has been emptied.  Doing that saw me needing to buy quite a few boxes of lids.  That’s when I decided to try Tattler lids.

Tattler lids are basically a modern incarnation of the old glass lids with rubber gaskets – reusable time and again even after pressure canning.

So, what’s my verdict after about five years of using them?  Great but there is definitely a learning curve associated with their use.  They aren’t as easy to use as conventional metal lids – but once you get a feel for how to use them your failure to seal rate should be pretty close with either boiling water bath or pressure canning methods.

Check out the video for more on my preferred technique.  But until you get the process down I’d suggest you continue to do batches with the majority of the jars topped with metal lids to reduce your frustration.

There is no mistaking a jar properly sealed with a tattler lid

There is no mistaking a jar properly sealed with a tattler lid

Some folks have complained about the lack of ease in figuring out if the jar is sealed – sure you can’t push on the top of the lid and see if it has been sucked down but if you remove the ring you’ll see very quickly if the jar is sealed.  Really the danger is if the jar looks to be sealed but isn’t – that isn’t a problem with the Tattler lids – even with boiling water bath canned one litre jars the vacuum is great enough to allow you to hold the lid and suspend the jar – there is no guessing needed.  It is readily apparent if the jar is or isn’t sealed.

In terms of price – well I bought my first case of lids [and I have standardized with regular mouth masons jars] at regular price directly from Tattler and they do pay for themselves very quickly if pressure canning – less so if you are boiling water bath canning and can reuse the metal lids.  After getting hooked on them Tattler had a crazy special where they were offering their lids for around half price – and that’s when I purchased a couple of bulk bags of lids and gaskets – so I expect that I’ll be using Tattler lids for the the rest of my canning life.

Now I can principally with the Tattler lids – the steel tops are reserved for jars which will be given away with no expectation of return.

If you probably should give Tattler lids a try – play around with them a bit and I am pretty sure you’ll end up hooked on them.