Saturday, June 27, 2009

Motorized Herb Dryer

When I was a kid, My mom used to dry a lot of fruit. Apples, peaches. apricots, pears, plums, grapes. She canned quite a bit, but she also dried quite a bit.

Over the years she experimented with different methods. My dad built her a wooden box with multiple screens in it, and light bulbs in the bottom. She used that for a while, but it was big and bulky and took up room in the kitchen, and, if she was canning too, the air was humid and the fruit would often mold before it dried.

Then came the energy crisis of the 70's and she decided she needed something that didn't use electricity, so she put my dad to work again.

He built some framed screens, about 3'x6' and she would set them up on cinder blocks out in the back yard and let the sun do the work. bringing them inside at night.

This worked fine on sunny days, but if it rained, they had to come inside, so she had to stop whatever she was doing at the kitchen table to make room for the screens.

About that same time, we had a car that was slowly dying. There was no way it was going to be of any value as a trade in, and so, when she finally got a new car, the old one sat in the driveway while they decided whether to fix it enough to try to sell it, or what to do with it.

One day, by accident, or inspiration, when it started to rain, and she needed her table, she set the screens in the old car to keep them out of the rain. She quickly discovered that the car made an excellent drying "oven" and she used it exclusively for that purpose.

I haven't dried a lot of fruit, but a few years back when we started growing herbs, I realized that we were going to have a lot more than we could use fresh. My Mom's tried and true method came back to me, and I put a cookie sheet of herbs out in my truck.

It took about a week for them to dry, but some days I had to use the truck, so I had the A/C running. I'm sure they would have dried much faster had the truck just been sitting in the sun.

I broke all the herb rules.

They say that herbs should be dried in a dark place. They say that they should be hung upside down from the rafters, they say they shouldn't be crushed until you are ready to use them.

I broke all those rules. I dried them in the truck, and crushed them. And you know what? The herbs I dried that year are still potent and I still use them.

Now, I'm not saying they wouldn't be even better had I followed the rules, but with the space we have and where we live, I did what worked for us. We don't have rafters to hang herbs from, and even if we did, a bunch of tied herbs, in our humidity would mold before I got down off the ladder. (assuming I could climb a ladder without falling.)

We don't have room to keep big bunches of dried herbs whole, so we either have crushed herbs or no herbs.

So, although this is not the method recommended by most herbalists, car drying can be an effective and efficient way to dry your herbs.

As a matter of fact, I have three big pans right now out in my truck and if you open the door and smell, it smells like you just walked into an Italian Restaurant.

The neighbors have been known to walk past my truck and see the herbs drying and ask just what king of herb I grow and if I want to share. They all seem disappointed when they find out it's only Savory, or Oregano or Sage.

I thought I was the only one besides my Mom who used this method, so imagine my surprise when I opened up my e-mail this morning and discovered a link my wife sent me.

Jenn, an upstate New Yorker writes a fascinating blog called Frugal Upstate where she shares money saving tips and ideas. And right there, in her blog, was an article titled
"Dehydrate Herbs in Your Car". Complete with pictures!

Not only that, but I learned about a new herb (lovage) I had never heard of before.

Check it out if you get a chance. It was a fascinating article.

Note- The inside of a car can get up to 40 degrees hotter than the temperature outside the car.


  1. That's a great idea! I also put my bread dough in the car to rise.


  2. Jane, I read your comment and thumped myself on the forhead with the classic, "Why didn't I think of that" thump.

    I love to bake bread, but it had never occurred to me to use the truck as a proofbox.