• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Ronco to the rescue! My dehydrator emergency and how I solved it (I hope) [UPDATE: EPIC FAIL]  RSS feed

 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
195
forest garden trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In a recent post Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

I often dehydrate melons, squash and cucumbers. The melons and cucumbers are great as a sweet snack.


That's been on my mind, but I don't (quite, yet) have a big enough cucumber surplus to try dehydrating those.  And the only melon plants that survived my spring neglects were some vine peaches that are just starting to produce.  (A second wave of melons I planted later is just starting to set fruit.) 

Then today I got sent on short notice to the big city for an eldercare-support errand, so I took the chance to raid a Sprouts grocery to see what kind of loss-leader fruit and veg they might be selling for cheap.  (They pretty reliably have something I want at a near-giveaway price.)  Today the standout bargain was some absolutely huge canteloupes from Arizona that were priced at 88 cents apiece.  They didn't really pass the sniff test (smelled green and musty like straw, not sweet and fruity like melon, when I sniffed at the "belly button" where the stem detached) so I assumed they would be green and crunchy and hard with that slightly-bitter flavor that unripe supermarket melons usually have.  But for that basement price, I thought I might have the makings of a dehydrated-melon experiment.  The concentration of sweetness you get when you dehydrate any fruit should overwhelm (I reasoned) the basically underwhelming flavor and mild sweetness of picked-too-soon supermarket melon.  I guestimated that three melons would more than fill my five-tray Waring Pro dehydrator (a gift from my sweetie about a year ago, which I like because it has a fan-only setting and a fairly nuanced set of three ascending temperature settings) so three melons I duly bought.

Got them home, cut into them, and sure enough, too crunchy to eat with enjoyment.  But actually quite sweet.  OK, perfect for the experiment. 

Got out my dehydrator, washed the trays (because the last use was turning some unpleasant hot banana peppers from my sister's garden into functional hot pepper powder), and spent most of an hour cutting up crunchy muskmelons and carefully stacking the trays.  Turned the knob and ... no fan.  Dead.  No spin.  Uh, oh, that really sucks.

Aside:  The weather right now is perfect for solar dehydrating.  Have I built my solar dehydrator yet?  No.  It's an engineering challenge; it's got to be build like a fortress if it's going to repel dogs and racoons and possums, keep bugs out, and not blow away in the first thunderstorm.  It's on the list, but it's not gotten to the top of the list yet. 

What to do?  I put a fair bit of effort and a smidgeon of cash into buying and prepping these crunchy melons that aren't pleasing to eat in their current state.  It would suck to compost them!

My first notion was to fix the dehydrator.  The last time I used it (to dry the peppers) things were so humid I had to use a heated setting, and that was putting too much capsaicin into my breathing air, so I moved the dehydrator out onto my porch.  It was nearly a 100-degree day and I forgot to turn it back down to fan only, so it got really hot, dehydrated the peppers in record time, and slightly melted (just enough to warp them visibly, not enough to impair their function) a few of the thin plastic filaments comprising the bottom-most of the plastic racks that came with the Waring.  My hope now was that the unit getting so hot also fried the lube out of the electric motor in the middle and siezed it up.  So I took out a bunch of screws, got the unit apart, and evaluated the fan.  Nope, not siezed up, spinning freely, no lube needed.  Must be genuinely burned out.  Worse luck, it's wired with some chintzy crimp-on connectors and no spare length of wire, so it would need an electrical artisan with skill exceeding my own to swap in a replacement motor even if I could get one off of Ebay or Amazon before my melon bits turned to mold.  No quick fixes; this unit is officially defunct.  Bah.  

I repeat, what to do with my soon-to-be-mouldering melon slices?

And then I remembered: about a month ago, I found a $5.00 dehydrator at an estate sale, apparently new in dirty box with all papers and plastic wraps intact.  It was a genuine finest kind vintage-1993 As-Seen-On-TV™ Ronco™ #1876 5-tray electric "Food Dehydrator™ and yogurt maker Beef Jerky Machine™".  I bought it with low expectations, but the price was right and having a spare dehydrator for dehydrating emergencies seemed prudent.  And what was this, if not a dehydrating emergency?

So I went outside and dug it out of the storage midden where I keep my garage sale treasures. 



Reader, I was not impressed when I opened the box.  It turns out that this Ronco dehydrator is utterly fanless; it operates by convection, using just a smidge of heat provided by a cheesy little heating element that looks a lot like one of those things you dip in your teacup to boil a single cup of tea.  On the bright side, the trays, though flimsy, have much wider spacing and allow for much better airflow than the defunct Waring.  The Waring is dead in the water without a fan; the Ronco, although it can't do my preferred no-heat forced-air dehydrating, at least looks like it ought to operate as designed. 

So I washed all the trays, transferred all my fruit (discovering in the process that the Ronco's five circular trays actually have more stacking area - by approximately 10% -  than the Waring) and plugged in the Ronco.  It is now emitting moist warm melon-scented air from its top vents, so I guess it may work.

So here's how today's experiment in frugality tallies up: I'm feeling a little foolish about buying $2.64 of crunchy melon, I'm feeling downright stupid at apparently having burned out my Waring Pro whilst making perhaps five tablespoons of unexceptional hot pepper powder, and I'm feeling just a tiny bit smug that my garage sale hoarding habit appears to have maybe saved the day.  I'll update this thread with an edibility assessment of the dried melon when it's done.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1787
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
195
forest garden trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
OMG, such a perfect trifecta of failure have I engineered for myself!

After 24 hours, some pieces of melon in the Ronco dehydrator appear about half dried.  But:

1) My house began to fill with a strong smell of fermented melon (not particularly pleasant, but distinctively beery);
2) Upon inspection, some pieces of melon, the "most dry" but still only about half dried, were showing mold spots and spreading filimentous fiber networks;
3) Other pieces of melon, hard and crunchy yesterday, were turning into soft, almost liquid, goo.

It appears that conditions inside the Ronco were so perfectly conducive to spoilage that yeasts, molds, and bacteria all attacked simultaneously.

My "Ronco to the rescue" title was intended to be at least a little bit ironic.  So much more ironic than I knew!

Game over, man.
 
And tomorrow is the circus! We can go to the circus! I love the circus! We can take this tiny ad:
Video of all the PDC and ATC (~177 hours) - HD instant view
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!