Summer Squash Chips and Watermelon Chews

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I purposefully avoid bringing home salt-and-vinegar potato chips or Jolly Rancher candies– they’re just so darn good, I’d eat the whole bag! Besides, I’ve got a great substitute for those snacks, without all of the extra calories and the guilt of eating something bad for me. You’ve probably got it at your local Farmers Market or growing in your garden, too! Take advantage of late summer’s abundant melons and summer squash, and transform them into delicious, shelf-stable goodies through the magic of dehydration.

Melons or squash may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of dried fruit. The extra water in these fruits can make them a bit more challenging to dehydrate well, and many people make the mistake of cranking up the heat on their dehydrators. Don’t do it! In fact, you want to dehydrate melons and squash at a lower temperature than you might other fruits or veggies — no warmer than 125° F. High dehydration temperatures cause the exterior of the fruit to dry first, preventing the evaporation of water from the interior. I first learned about this phenomenon, called “case-hardening,” when I did my first batch of dehydrated roma tomatoes many years ago; my tomatoes had a hard, inedible shell, and when I cut into them they were still wet inside! So, remember to keep dehydration temperatures lower for wet fruits. If you’re able to set the temperature on your dehydrator like I can, this is easy to achieve, but if you can’t, try to avoid loading the racks closest to your dehydrator’s fan.


Summer Squash Chips

How thick should you slice these fruits? I prefer my summer squash sliced thinly so that they crunch like a potato chip, but not so thinly that they break in my storage bags — about 1/4 of an inch does the trick. I use my 1/4-inch slicing disc on my food processor (a Cuisinart #6 disc) to speed things along. Depending on the outdoor humidity (we process most of our foods in our outdoor kitchen), it takes anywhere from 12 to 24 hours for the slices to dry.

Summer Squash Chips

If you want to achieve that salt-and-vinegar chip that I mentioned previously, simply dunk your sliced squash in white wine or champagne vinegar, transfer to the dehydrator trays, and then sprinkle them generously with freshly-ground sea salt. Or just use your favorite blend of spices (and send the recipe my way — I’d love to try it!).

Summer Squash Chips

When it comes to squash varieties for dehydrating as chips, I’ve found that not all are created equal. Many of the popular zucchinis and yellow summer squash available at garden centers were bred for shipping and storage, and their skins are much tougher than many heirloom varieties. It’s not to say that Black Beauty Zucchini or Yellow Crookneck Squash won’t make a great chip, but simply be warned that the chip edges (where the skin is) might be tougher (which you can avoid by not eating the edge, or peeling before dehydrating). My favorite squashes to chip include the heirlooms White Bush Scallop, Benning’s Green Tint, Patisson Panache Jaune et Vert, and Gray Zucchini.

Destined for the dehydrator: Patisson Panache Jaune et Vert and White Bush Scallop. Pick them young!

Destined for the dehydrator: Patisson Panache Jaune et Vert and White Bush Scallop. Pick them young!


Watermelon Chews

If it weren’t for the texture difference, you might mistake these for watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers (that’s what everyone proclaims when they try them); these cause the same puckering and instant-salivation that those celebrated candies produce. Unlike summer squash, I prefer these chewy, so I cut melons 1/2 inch thick, making sure to remove the seeds prior to dehydrating. It takes at least 24 hours for these to dry.

Yes, that's a yellow-fleshed watermelon in there, too. A yummy blend of Missouri Yellow-Flesh and Crimson Sweet watermelons.

Yes, that’s a yellow-fleshed watermelon in there, too… a yummy blend of dehydrated Missouri Yellow-Flesh and Crimson Sweet watermelons. I love the intense colors!

I’ve also dehydrated muskmelons (thanks to inspiration from my friends Jenny and Jonathan at What’s Cookin’ Now!), and folks have a mixed reaction to them — the cantaloupe flavor becomes a little too intense for some peoples’ liking. Their intensity can be tempered with a generous sprinkling of freshly-cracked black pepper and sea salt, and I think they’re great paired with cured meats like prosciutto or country ham.


A final word about storage — once dehydrated, melons and summer squash are shelf-stable, but my summer squash chips tend to grow stale on the counter in Ziploc bags (they reabsorb water from the air). Veggie chips can maintain their crunch if you store them in the freezer, however, so I just a load a non-crushable container with my chip bags and grab as I need them (since there is little water present in the chips, no thawing is required).


Do you have other ways that you like to preserve melons and squash? Share them with us. I’ll start with this recipe for Watermelon Jelly!






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