Here’s everything you need to know to use your freezer, oven, or dehydrator to preserve your favorite fruits and vegetables without canning.
Right about now, Farmer’s Markets, grocery stores, and gardens are bulging with fresh produce. That includes my backyard, too. My tomato plants look like Christmas trees with all the red, round fruits hanging from them. I have a forest of parsley, and so many green beans ready to harvest that I don’t care at all when squirrels help themselves. And don’t get me started on how tired of zucchini we already are.
We’d need to eat 24/7 to keep up with our garden. It’s just not possible. So, rather than throwing food away, I’ve been busy storing it. You can, too, once you know how to preserve your favorite fruits and vegetables. You don’t need a canner, just a freezer, and an oven, though a dehydrator is handy if you happen to have one sitting around. (Here’s the dehydrator I use.)
How to Preserve Fruits and Vegetables Without Canning
Must-Know Cooking Terms to Save Produce
If you’re new to cooking or have always just done your own thing in the kitchen, there are a few terms you should know before you start preparing produce for long-term storage without canning.
Minced means food cut it into pieces smaller than 1/8 inch. To mince something, walk your knife, blade down, side to side across it on the cutting board.
Diced food is cut into small, even pieces around 1/4 inch. “Diced large” means the size of game-playing dice. When recipes tell you to dice food, it’s a sign that cutting all of the pieces to the same size is essential. Uniformly-sized pieces cook evenly, so you don’t have to worry about some burning while others aren’t cooked through. Use an up and down knife motion for this, carefully pushing the food along with the bent fingers of your other hand.
Chopped food is more free-form and gives a rustic look to home-cooked meals. Most recipes calling for chopped ingredients also involve a long simmering time, blending, or pureeing. So, cutting all of the pieces to the same size doesn’t matter as much. (If you don’t have the best knife skills, or you’re preparing a lot of food, use a one-step chopper. Here’s the one I use, and I love it!)
Blanching involves briefly boiling food then immediately dunking it into ice water to stop the cooking process. To blanch food, you’ll need a large soup or stockpot and a colander or strainer.
Tips for Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables
Freezing is by far the easiest way to save fruits or vegetables for long-term storage. If you’d rather dehydrate them using your oven or a food dehydrator, there are some vital safety tips you should know.
Make sure food and equipment are squeaky clean. Discard food with mold and cut out any black or bruised spots. Dehydrating uses low temperatures that do not necessarily kill mold or bacteria. (Related: Homemade Fruit and Vegetable Wash.)
If you don’t have a convection oven, your kitchen will get hot. Oven-drying requires proper air circulation, so if you’re using a regular oven, you may have to prop open the door. Convection ovens don’t need to be left open, though.
If your oven does not have a dehydrating mode, set it as low as it goes. Many ovens don’t go below 170º F. You can still dehydrate in these ovens, but it will go faster, and you’ll need to watch foods more carefully, so they don’t burn.
Using a food dehydrator outdoors helps keep your home cool. Please put it in a shady spot where kids and animals won’t disturb it. Make sure you can see the dehydrator at all times for safety purposes.
Let oven-dried or dehydrated foods cool completely before storage. Unless otherwise noted below, remove food from the oven or dehydrator to cool for an hour or until it’s room temperature. Storing food that’s still warm leads to condensation that spoils food.
Store dehydrated food in a dark, cool spot. Dried foods keep well in jars with tight-fitting lids, air-tight food storage containers, or resealable bags (if they’re not fragile). Choose a storage spot that’s dark and cool since temperature and humidity changes can ruin your dried food. You can also tuck silica gel packets in the containers to help keep things dry.
ALWAYS condition oven-dried or dehydrated foods before long-term storage. When preserving foods by dehydration, “conditioning” means checking that they’re fully dry. To do this, transfer thoroughly cooled foods to storage containers, close them, and check them after 24 hours. If you see signs of moisture, like condensation, repeat the drying process until they’re dry.
Inspect food before consuming it. Don’t eat oven-dried or dehydrated food that looks or smells “off,” or which shows signs of mold. If dried correctly, though, it can stay good for a year or longer.
How to Preserve Produce without Canning
Freezer: Stir 3 tablespoons of honey into 3 cups of water. Store them in the fridge in the honey-water for up to 8 hours. To freeze apples, scoop them out of the mixture after 5 minutes and spread the pieces on a baking sheet to freeze individually. Transfer from the baking sheet into containers and store them up to 5 months.
Oven-Drying: Slice apples to 1/8 inch thickness. Soak the slices in a mixture of 4 cups water and 1/2 cup lemon juice for 30 minutes. Drain and pat them dry then arrange them in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets. Dry in a 200º F oven for 2 hours, turning over halfway through. Cool then condition apple slices after oven-drying.
Dehydrator: Prepare apples as you would for oven-drying. Preheat the dehydrator to 130º F. Arrange apple slices on trays, so they’re not touching and dehydrate for 10-12 hours, rotating halfway through. Condition apple slices after dehydrating.
Freezer: Raw artichokes don’t preserve well. You can freeze cooked artichokes, though. To do this, cut off the top inch and trim the stem. Rub the cut pieces with lemon to keep them from browning. Bring a pot of water to boil and squeeze a lemon into it. Boil the artichokes for 10 minutes until they’re not entirely done then drain them upside down until they’re cool. Slice the artichokes in half lengthwise and freeze them on baking sheets. Once frozen, wrap each half in foil and put them in a freezer container. To serve, thaw them in the foil on a rack set over a pot of boiling water. (Related: Homemade Marinated Artichoke Hearts.)
Oven-drying or dehydrator: Not recommended.
Freezer: Wash thoroughly and remove the leaves to within 1 inch of the beet top. (See how to store beet greens, below.) Cook beets in boiling water until tender, about 25-30 minutes for small beets, 45-50 minutes for medium ones. Let them cool until you can handle them, then slip off the peel and cut off the long root. Slice or chop and freeze them in one layer on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag. To use, grab what you need and defrost at room temperature, in the microwave, or by a quick boil.
Oven-drying: Beets are challenging but not impossible to oven-dry. Wash and peel them. You’ll need a mandoline to cut them as thinly as possible. Pat the slices dry and arrange them on parchment-lined baking sheets one-fourth inch apart. Dry in a 200º F oven, turning them hourly until they’re leathery and have no soft spots — about 10 hours. Condition.
Dehydrator: Wash, peel, and thinly slice beets using a mandoline. Arrange slices on the dryer racks, so they’re not touching. Dehydrate at 120º F for 8 hours, turning halfway through. Condition.
Freezer: Wash thoroughly in multiple changes of water, then blanch for 2 minutes. Plunge into ice water, drain and dry them in a salad spinner. Scatter them on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer them to a freezer bag.
Drying (oven or dehydrator): Spin dry washed greens and spread them evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in a 200º F oven for 1-2 hours or in a dehydrator at 100º F. Checking often to make sure they don’t burn. Condition. (Related: Tomato Powder Recipe.)
Freezer: Wash and remove core, seeds, and membrane. Slice or chop then spread on a cookie sheet and freeze. Slip frozen pieces into a freezer container and store.
Oven-drying: Peppers contain a lot of moisture, so it takes many hours to dehydrate them in an oven. It’s not impossible, but you’ll need to leave your oven door propped open a few inches, so air circulates. (In other words, it’s going to get hot in your kitchen.) Arrange 1/4 thick slices or diced peppers in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets. Put the sheets on racks in the center of the oven and dehydrate at 150º F for 10-12 hours. If your oven doesn’t go that low, use the lowest temperature setting and prop the door open so they don’t steam. Condition once cool.
Dehydrator: Cut peppers into 1/4 inch thick slices or dice them. Scatter these on your dehydrator sheets. Dehydrate at 125-135° for 12-24 hours. (The time range depends on your home’s humidity and the peppers’ moisture content.) Condition once cool.
Freezer: Wash thoroughly then spread on a baking sheet to freeze. Transfer to freezer containers. (Related: How to Make Fresh Berries Last for Weeks.)
Oven-drying: Gently pat dry then spread the berries on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dehydrate in a 225° F oven for 3-4 hours. Let cool thoroughly then condition.
Dehydrator: Arrange berries on dehydrator trays, so they’re not touching. Dehydrate at 135° F until they’re leathery. Rotate your trays every 3-4 hours. Dehydrating berries can take 15-24 hours, depending on their size, juiciness, and shape. Let cool thoroughly then condition.
Freezing: Scrub thoroughly and peel if desired. Slice into 1/4 inch coins or dice them. You can also leave them whole if you’d like. Blanch in hot water (5 minutes for whole carrots, 2 minutes for diced or sliced), then plunge into ice water. Drain and spread them on a baking sheet to freeze. Transfer to resealable containers for long-term freezer storage.
Oven-drying: Slice carrots 1/4 inch thick or dice them evenly. Blanch sliced carrots for 3 minutes or diced carrots for 1 minute. Pat the blanched carrots dry and spread them in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets. Dry in a closed 135° F oven for 6-8 hours, check often toward the end of the cooking time. If your oven does not go below 150° F, prop the door open a few inches and check them often after 4 hours. Oven-dried carrots are done when they look leathery and crisp. Cool then condition.
Dehydrator: Slice carrots 1/4 inch thick or dice them evenly. Blanch sliced carrots for 3 minutes or diced carrots for 1 minute. Pat them dry and spread on racks. Set your dehydrator to 125° F. Dry sliced carrots 8-10 hours and diced carrots for 6-8. Rotate trays every couple of hours. Carrots are dehydrated when they’re leathery and have no soft spots. Cool then condition.
Freezer: Leave them on the cob and blanch for 5 minutes. Do not add anything to the blanching water. After cooling in the ice bath, pat the cobs dry. Slice off the kernels and scatter them on a baking sheet to freeze then transfer them to containers for long-term freezer storage.
Oven-drying: Blanch corn on the cob for 5 minutes in plain water then transfer to an ice bath. Once it’s cool enough to handle, pat the cobs dry and slice off the kernels. Scatter them on baking sheets and dehydrate them in a 150º F oven for 6-8 hours. If your oven doesn’t go that low, use the lowest setting, and prop the door open a few inches. Check them after 4 hours and then check frequently. Corn kernels are done when they’re leathery with no soft spots. Cool then condition.
Dehydrator: Blanch cobs for 5 minutes and cool them in an ice bath. Pat them dry then cut off the kernels. Scatter the kernels on racks and dehydrate at 125º F for 6-8 hours. Rotate trays every 2 hours. Corn kernels are dehydrated when they’re leather and hard. Cool then condition.
Corn, Whole Ears
Freezer: Remove husk and silk, then trim ends. Blanch in plain water for 8 minutes then plunge into ice water. Drain and pat dry well. Wrap each ear in plastic wrap or cling film, twisting the ends. Pack several wrapped ears into a freezer container for storage.
Oven-drying or dehydrating: Not recommended. (If you want to dry whole ears for birds or animals, leave them in a sunny spot and rotate them every few hours until dry.)
Freezer: If you buy them in a plastic bag at the grocery store, you can stick the unopened bag directly into the freezer for future use. Otherwise, wash them and spread them on a baking sheet to freeze individually then store them in a freezer container.
Oven-drying or dehydrating: See Berries, above.
Freezing: Peel and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices or dice. To retain its color while freezing, blanch eggplant in water treated with lemon juice (1/2 cup lemon juice for every quart of water). Blanch slices for 5 minutes or diced eggplant for 2 minutes. Plunge into ice water, drain and spread on a baking sheet to freeze. Slip into a freezer container for long-term storage.
Oven-drying: Eggplants contain a lot of moisture, which makes oven-drying them difficult. Blanch as directed above then pat dry. Spread on racks positioned over parchment-lined baking sheets. Turn your oven to the lowest setting. (If it does not go below 150º F, you’ll need to prop open the door several inches, so the eggplant dries, not steams.) Dry for 7-10 hours, checking often. Cool then condition.
Dehydrator: Blanch as directed above and pat dry. Arrange on dehydrator racks. Preheat dehydrator to 135º F and add your full racks. Dehydrate for 4-8 hours, checking often and rotating the trays every 2 hours. Cool then condition.
Freezing: Wash thoroughly and spin or pat until completely dry. Mince and put into an ice cube tray or muffin pan, then cover with water and freeze. Pop the cubes out and store them in a resealable container. You can add frozen cubes directly to soups or stews. Or defrost, drain, and pat dry to use in baked goods or other recipes.
Oven-drying: Wash and pat dry. Remove stems if needed. Lay in a single layer on parchment-lined sheets. Turn your oven to the lowest setting and dry the herbs for 15-60 minutes. Watch them carefully, so they don’t burn. Let cool completely, then crumble. Transfer the crumbled, dry herbs to a sealed container, and check it after 24 hours for signs of moisture. Repeat the drying process for 5-10 minutes if needed.
Dehydrator: Preheat the dehydrator to 95º – 115º F (lowest setting). Wash and pat dry herbs then lay them on the trays in a single layer. Dehydrate herbs for 1-3 hours, checking often. Condition them after drying by transferring them to a sealed container as directed above.
Treat like beet greens, above.
Freezer: Juice a lemon. Fill a large bowl with 1 of quart water and stir in the juice. Slice open the melon lengthwise and use a melon baller to scoop out the flesh or cut it into ven chunks. Dunk the melon balls or pieces into the lemon water, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a cookie sheet to freeze until solid. Use frozen melon to make smoothies.
Oven-drying: Remove the rind and cut melon into 1/4-inch thick slices. Pat them dry then arrange them on a parchment-lined baking tray. Dehydrate them at 150º F for 10-14 hours, or until they are firm and thoroughly dried out. If your oven does not go that low, use the lowest setting but prop the door open, so the melon slices dehydrate, not steam. (And repeatedly check after 6 hours.) Let the melon completely cool before transferring it to storage. Since melons are extremely high in moisture, you should check the containers after 24 hours. If you see any signs of damp, repeat the drying process for another 1-4 hours.
Dehydrator: Prepare as noted above. Preheat the dehydrator to 125º F and dry the melon slices for 8-10 hours. Rotate racks every two hours. Let cool completely then follow the directions above to condition them.
Freezer: Peel onions and remove both ends. Chop, dice, or slice as desired. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Transfer to freezer containers.
Oven-drying: Onions go from drying to scorching quickly due to their sugar content, so watch them closely. Set your oven to 140º F (or your oven’s lowest setting), and arrange sliced or diced onion pieces on parchment-lined baking sheets. You must prop the door open several inches to prevent scorching. Dry them for 4 hours then begin checking every 30 minutes, so you can catch them before they start to scorch. (Note: They may take as long as 10 hours to dry out completely, but you still need to check often.) Onions will look wrinkled and leathery when they’re dehydrated. Cool then condition. Store them as-is in containers or pulverize them in a food processor for onion powder. (Related: Homemade Garlic Powder.)
Dehydrator: Arrange sliced or diced onions on racks. Preheat dehydrator to 125˚ F and dry them for 3-9 hours. Rotate trays hourly and check them often. Remove pieces that are dry and leathery and continue to dehydrate the rest until done. Cool then condition.
Freezer: Combine 3 cups water and 3 tablespoons honey in a bowl. (This helps preserve their color.) Wash and peel the pears, then cut them into quarters and remove the core. Soak the pears in the honey-water for 20 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pears to a baking sheet and freeze them. Store in an air-tight freezer container. Use frozen slices in smoothies or defrost to use in baking recipes.
Oven-drying: Slice or dice peeled and cored pears to 1/4-inch thickness. Soak them in a honey-water bath as directed above for 20 minutes. Drain and let them air-dry for 5 minutes then transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets. Preheat your oven to 150˚ F. If it does not go that low, use the lowest setting but leave the door propped open several inches the entire time. Oven-dry pears for 6-10 hours, rotating the baking sheets every 2 hours to promote even drying. Remove them when they look dry but are not browned. Let them cool completely and transfer them to containers. Since pears are high in moisture, you must check the containers after 24 hours. If you see any signs of damp, repeat the drying process for another 1-4 hours.
Dehydrator: Follow the directions for oven-drying but use a dehydrator set to 130˚ F. Dehydrate for 8-10 hours. After 6 hours, rotate the trays hourly. Cool then condition them following the directions above.
Follow the same directions as for pears.
Freezer: Cut the fruit in half around the middle. Hold one half over a bowl, skin side up. Tap the top several times with the back of a wooden spoon to dislodge most of the seeds. Cut the half into halves again and drop the sections into a bowl of cold water. After 5 minutes, use your fingers to roll the remaining seeds out. Spread the seeds on a cookie sheet to freeze then scoop into freezer containers for storage. Use in salads or smoothies, or eat as-is.
Oven-drying: Remove seeds from the fruit following the above method. Scatter seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dry in a 150˚ F oven for 8-10 hours. If your oven does not go that low, use the lowest setting but prop the door open, so they dry out rather than steam. Let cool completely. Pomegranate seeds will be dry, not sticky when done. Cool then condition them. If you notice moisture after conditioning, repeat the drying process for another 1-3 hours.
Dehydrator: Follow the directions for oven drying. Preheat your dehydrator to 135˚ F. Dry the seeds on trays, rotating every 2 hours, until done. Let them cool in the dehydrator for another hour or two then transfer to a container. Use the steps above to condition them.
Potatoes, White or Sweet (Grated, Sliced, or Cubed)
Freezer: Peel the potatoes. If slicing or cubing, cut them into 1/4-inch pieces. Otherwise, grate them. Blanch prepared potatoes in boiling water for 3 minutes, rinse in cold water, and drain well. Squeeze grated potatoes gently with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible. Pat-dry slices or cubes. Spread thinly on a baking sheet and freeze then scoop into freezer containers.
Oven-drying: Follow directions above to prepare potatoes. Spread on parchment-lined baking sheets in a single layer, so they’re not touching. Set your oven to 150˚ F and dry potatoes for 6-8 hours, or until they’re translucent with no signs of moisture. If your oven does not go that low, choose the lowest setting but prop open the door. (Also, if you’re oven-drying shredded potatoes, check hourly after 4 hours.) Let oven-dried potatoes cool to room temperature then condition them. You must check them after 24 hours for signs of moisture and repeat the drying process if needed.
Dehydrator: Follow directions above to prepare, blanch, and dry potatoes. Preheat your dehydrator to 135˚ F and dehydrate potatoes for 6-10 hours. (Grated potatoes will be ready sooner.) Cool then condition them before storage.
Potatoes, White or Sweet (Whole)
Freezing: Baking potatoes freeze better than new potatoes. Peel then blanch them in hot water for 5 minutes. After the ice bath, pat them dry then wrap in foil before freezing in a resealable bag.
Oven-drying or dehydrator: Not recommended.
Treat like beet greens, above.
Freezing: Slice off the stem-end then cut out the core. For diced tomatoes, cut an X into the blossom-end using a sharp knife. Dunk them in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds then use a slotted spoon to move them to an ice bath. Pull the skin off, slice them open to remove seeds, and dice the flesh. To freeze whole tomatoes, skip peeling and put them directly onto a baking sheet. Transfer to a freezer container. When defrosted, the skins will slip right off.
Oven-drying: Prop racks over parchment-lined baking sheets using balls of foil. For diced tomatoes, peel and dice them according to the directions above. Otherwise, cut tomatoes in half and remove the core. Preheat your oven to 200˚ F. Dry diced tomatoes for 30-90 minutes. Dry tomatoes halves cut-side up for 2-4 hours. Condition dried tomatoes by letting them cool completely then putting them in an airtight container. Check after 24 hours for signs of moisture and repeat the drying process for another 15-60 minutes if needed.
Dehydrator: Prepare tomatoes as directed above. Preheat your dehydrator to 135˚ F. Arrange tomato halves cut-side up on trays and dehydrate for 8-10 hours. For diced tomatoes, scatter them in a single layer on trays and dehydrate for 4-6 hours. Fully dehydrated tomatoes are dry, not sticky, but not crispy either. Cool then condition. (If they get crispy, turn them into homemade tomato powder.)
Zucchini (and Summer Squash)
Freezing: Grated zucchini freezes best if steamed over boiling water for 3 minutes, not blanched. Squeeze-dry it or run it through a salad spinner. Sliced zucchini should be blanched for 2 minutes then patted dry. Freeze both styles of zucchini by spreading it on baking sheets then transfer frozen zucchini to resealable bags.
Oven-drying: (Slices only.) Cut zucchini or summer squash into 1/4 inch thick slices. Pat these dry very well on both sides. Arrange the slices on parchment-lined baking sheets and dry them in a 150° F oven for 4 hours, flipping them hourly. If your oven does not go down to 150°, use the lowest setting but prop the door open several inches so the slices dry, not steam. Let cool completely. Condition by putting them in an air-tight container and checking for moisture after 24 hours. Repeat the drying process for another 1-2 hours if needed.
Dehydrating: (Slices only) Prepare zucchini as directed above. Preheat your dehydrator to 135˚F. Place slices on trays and dry for 5-11 hours. (How long it takes to dehydrate zucchini depends on your home’s humidity and the zucchini’s moisture content.) Rotate trays every 2 hours for even drying then condition following the directions above.