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!

 

 

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Texan

    August 23, 2014 at 9:17 am

    What good information about the “case hardening” that makes perfect sense when one thinks about it, though I never have LOL. I can set the temp on my dehydrator so I will be lowering it in the future. I have made veggie chips before and I like them very much. I like a mixture of smoked sweet paprika, salt, garlic pwd onion pwd. sprinkled on them for a BBQ type taste

    • Cathy

      August 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      That sounds like a great blend of spices! Thank you!

  2. Little Mountain Haven

    August 23, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    I have over 20 ‘Bennings Green’ squash that I’m trying to use up, this is perfect! I’m a salt & chip fiend, I’m sooo going to try these!

  3. northskylight

    August 29, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Fantastic idea about the watermelon chews! I dehydrated half a watermelon we had left over (115* for 20 hours in my Excalibur), just to try it…and they DO taste just like a Jolly Rancher watermelon! If you freeze them, they have an even more candy-like mouth-feel. Yum!!

  4. m holloway

    October 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    i have an abundance of white scallop squash that i have been trying to use up. i made white squash smoothies (cooked, pureed squash with onion, garlic, chili powder, celery, chicken bullion, and paprika) that i froze in ice cube trays, and several different sized containers to use this winter as stew and sauce additives. i still have a dozen left and have been looking for a different use. i am so excited to find this article! i love chips and store bought ones are so bad for you! guess what i am making this evening? Thank you! i have a question that i have asked several people and have not been able to find the answer. i hope you can! i have ab ebtire front yard full of spontanious watermelon vines, started from a watermelon seed spitting contest with my grandchildren. are the leaves edible? i sooo want to make chips from them but cannot find out if it would be safe? m