Solar Drier

A VERY GOOD SOLAR FOOD DRIER

The easiest and most efficient solar food drier possible made from recycled objects.

Solar Drier

View of the Solar Drier

I spent many hours looking on internet for plans on how to make a solar drier. There are hundreds of different designs on pinterest and on homesteading sites. I almost started to make a couple of the most promising ones but fortunately I waited.  I eventually found one that I considered to have the best concept at  Elder Grove Homestead (see link below)  I then realized that I already had all the materials needed to make a solar drier without buying  anything and without building or constructing anything. My version uses a clear  window with most of the heating happening on the bottom corrugated iron  plate which generates a slow hot convectional current of air. 

Materials

A piece of corrugated iron painted black.
Some metal mesh with fairly small holes wired down to panels of an old chicken run.
Some circular sand sieves. (builders use them for sieving sand)
Some old windows.
Some ground which has a slight slope.

Solar Drier with windows

The above photo shows the solar drier in use:

How it works.

The sun shines through the window and heats up the black corrugated iron base. The heat and air is trapped in by the glass. As the solar drier is on a slope, the hot air moves slowly upwards  and then escapes from the top of the window. New air is constantly drawn in from the bottom. The food does not burn because as the temperature gets hotter the air moves faster. If it rains it is no problem the food is protected and it does not need to be brought in. The temperature is too hot for insects and even ants do not stay long.

Efficiency.

We have two or 3 electric food  driers but after a few days using this one I packed them away because this works so much better. In the hot sun of August most things were bone dry in one day. I even used this system to dry a load of comfrey leaves so that I don’t have to put up with the smell of rotting comfrey. I can just add the dried comfrey powder directly to the plants.

Advantages.

The main advantage is that no construction is required. If the drier is not in use you can just pick up the pieces and stack them somewhere. No electricity. No moving parts. A lot of the solar driers you see on internet have one window leading to a whole stack of food trays. Even in hot weather this must be slow. With our design the food is dried very quickly, at first you can even see the moisture condensing  on the window. 

Cost.

If you have to buy the windows it could be quite expensive however old windows are quite easy to get hold of. Other websites say that the mesh should be made out of food grade stainless steel. This is probably correct but I think I will risk it. If you paint the corrugated iron you should probably leave it out for a few days to drive off any volatile chemicals. (I did not actually paint mine) . The builder’s sieves can be bought from any builder’s merchant alternatively you can make some wooden frames and staple mesh onto them.

Notes.

As you can see we have  two options of placing the food. On the sand sieves or on the mesh grids. Either work perfectly but the sieves are easier to load with produce and bring to and from the kitchen. The windows are not connected with hinges they can be lifted up with one hand while the food is slipped in with the other. If they get dirty they can be picked up and blasted with water.

Dried Food

Dried Food

The photo above are some of the dried foods on the kitchen shelf ready to be added to many dishes during the winter months. The Tsunami by the way is a failed attempt to make marmite from wine yeast. In the end I dried it out and decided that it will add some umami taste to some foods (hence the name)  In the year of COVID just the two of us managed to dry a massive amount of food during the summer.

For loads of technical details and useful information go to Elder Grove Homestead You don’t need all the hinges and fancy construction techniques that they use you can just do it like mine on the floor with a few old windows.

Sourdough Bread – A Beginner’s Guide

 My Sourdough Journey

My first attempts at re-invigorating a dried starter failed abysmally and it was clear that it was well and truly dead.

A couple of days into the process, I had added some fermenting blackberries and although there were a couple of promising bubbles, they soon popped and there was no further activity. I decided to try again, this time using fermenting grape juice.

We had picked the grapes to make wine towards the end of September and the must was about 10 days old when I used it. I followed Elly’s everyday low-waste method for making the starter and substituted the grape juice for the unsweetened pineapple juice that she used. This was the process I followed: 

Day 1 morning: In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup juice and 1/2 cup strong white flour. Cover with a plate. If the temperature drops below 20ºC, wrap the bowl in a towel.

Day 1 evening: Stir mixture thoroughly with a spatula. Cover.

Day 2 morning: Stir mixture thoroughly with a spatula. Cover.

Day 2 evening: Stir mixture thoroughly with a spatula. Cover.

Day 3 morning: Start the feeding process: In a new bowl, mix
together 3 tablespoons flour, 2 tablespoons water and 3 tablespoons
of the starter. Stir well and then cover with a plate.

Day 3 evening: Repeat feeding process.

Continue feeding starter twice a day until Day 14

By this time, the starter should be quite bubbly and doubling in size by feeding time. It should be ready to use by Day 12 – Day 14.

On Day 14, I attempted my first loaf of bread using Teresa Greenway‘s Sourdough Test loaf method.

As I was still feeding my starter, it wasn’t necessary to take it out of the fridge and reanimate it from hibernation.

DAY 1:
Take the starter out of the fridge at around 19:00 two days before you will be baking bread. Transfer the starter to a bowl and feed with equal amounts of white flour and water. Transfer 50g to a small jar and put this back in the fridge. Leave the rest of the starter on the counter until the next day.

DAY 2:
Start making the bread at around 12:00

The ingredients for the bread are as follows:

  • 100g sourdough starter
  • 330g warm water (80ºF)
  • 20g boiling water mixed with 10g salt
  • 500g bread flour

For the flour, I like to mix 350g white flour and 150g brown flour.

Put the water into a large bowl and add the starter, stirring with a whisk to break up the starter and mix thoroughly.

Cover with a plate, wrap in a towel and leave for 30 minutes.

Add the water and salt and mix thoroughly with your hands.

Leave for 60 minutes

You are now going to do 4 stretch and folds every hour, covering the bowl with the plate and towel after each one.

The stretch and fold process: by stretching and folding the dough, you are working and stretching the gluten strands in the dough. You stretch and fold each of the sides, then turn the dough over and repeat on the other side.

You are then going to do 4 coil folds every half hour, again covering the bowl with the plate and towel after each one.

Leave for 30 minutes.

Pre-shape the dough into a ball on the counter, pulling it from the bottom towards you to increase the tension on the surface.

Let the dough relax for 15-20 minutes.

Use the same technique to shape the ball of dough.

Put the ball into the breadmaker tin. Cover and leave in a cool place overnight.

Follow the following instructions for using a banneton:

Lay a tea towel over the top of a colander or banneton and dust the surface with cornflour.

Turn the ball upside down and drop it into the colander. Dust the top with cornflour and then cover with a plastic bag. Place in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, get the dough out of the fridge and leave for 1.5 – 2 hours to come back up to room temperature.

Turn over and dust off any excess flour.

 

Score the top with a sharp blade. The idea of scoring is let any gases escape and ideally the cut should be about 1/2 deep.

If you want a soft-crust loaf, spray the top with water.

Bake.

Leave to cool for 30 minutes or so and then turn out onto a baking rack.

Parsnip Fritters

We’ve got a lot of large parsnips at the moment and although I love roast parsnips, we don’t often light the wood-fired oven and cook a roast dinner. I’ve therefore been looking for new ways of cooking them. This recipe is similar to a bhaji and uses oregano instead of spices. You could substitute parsnips with butternut squash or sweet potato. This recipe with no eggs but with potatoes is very similar to a potato rosti. 

PARSNIP FRITTERS

INGREDIENTS

  • 200g coarsely grated parsnip
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • sprinkle oregano
  • 2 small eggs
  • splash extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

  1. Mix all of the ingredients well in a bowl.
  2. Heat some sunflower oil in a large frying pan.
  3. Put spoonfuls of the mix into the frying pan and fry on a medium heat for 6 minutes, covering the pan with a large saucepan lid.
  4. Turn and fry for a further 6 minutes, covering the pan.
  5. Remove the lid and fry for another minute or so until the fritters are golden and crispy.

The recipe makes about 8 fritters.

Bhindi Bhaji – Okra Curry

Okra or “ladies fingers” as it is also known is commonly used in Indian, Asian and African cooking. Although okra is typically grown in tropical or warmer climates, we are able to grow it here in the summer at 1,300 metres above sea level. By picking the pods when they are tender and not cooking it for too long, it is possible to avoid the slimy texture that many people associate with okra and find off-putting.

 

Bhindi Bhaji


INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 bowl of okra, cut into 5cm pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • a splash of water

METHOD

  1. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and then add the chopped tomatoes.
  2. Fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the spices and heat for another minute or so.
  4. Add the okra and coat well in the spice mixture.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cook for 10.15 minutes on a low heat, adding a splash of water as necessary to prevent the mixture drying out.

Blackberry Mousse

blackberry mousse

The year 2020 was THE year for blackberries. We cut the buses back at the beginning of the year and once they started producing, they didn’t stop. The challenge now was what to do with them so we started experimenting with everything from dried blackberries for the muesli, to blackberry jam and blackberry cordial to mix with gaseosa (the Spanish version of a slightly sweetened soda water or not-so-sweet lemonade) as a non-alcoholic summer drink, but possibly my favourite was blackberry mousse. John told me about the mousse his mum used to make with jelly and evaporated milk so by trial and error I worked out the quantities for this delicious mousse recipe.

I prefer to make the mousse by blitzing the berries first with a stick blender and then passing the liquid through a Moulinex food mill to remove the pips but it is entirely up to you whether you blitz or not. At the moment, I am experimenting with heating the fruit liquid before making the mousse to see if there is any difference.

The quantities of gelatine and sugar will vary according to the amount of juice you get from the berries. The quantities shown below are based on 500g blackberry juice (without the pips).

 

BLACKBERRY MOUSSEblackberry mousse

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium bowl of blackberries
  • 10g powdered gelatine
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 225ml evaporated milk

 

METHOD

  1. Blitz the blackberries with a stick blender and then put through the food mill to remove the pips.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the water, gelatine and sugar.
  3. Heat gently until the mixture has dissolved and remove from the heat.
  4. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and then pour into the berry juice, stirring all the time.
  5. Whisk the evaporated milk until soft peaks are formed.
  6.  Spoon some of the berry juice into the evaporated milk and continue to whisk.
  7. Gently incorporate the rest of the berry juice and continue to whisk until the mousse is thoroughly mixed.
  8. Leave to cool in the fridge overnight.