We grow a lot of onions on our homestead, and this year was no different. We specialize in “Whidbey Sweets” as we call our Walla Walla Onions. They don’t grow as big here on the island, as they do in their namesake of Walla Walla, Wa, but it’s also a lot cooler here than in blazing hot Eastern Washington. These are not great “storage onions”, so this year I worked on processing them into long-term storage by freeze-drying many of them. I found we were not always eating all of them before they’d spoil, even when cured.
And this leads to something that is often claimed. Something even I have been guilty of – that you shouldn’t preserve food that is cheaper to just buy pre-done. Well…….OK, I get it. Onions, even sweet onions, can be had for $1 a pound, or less, in summer. And dried onions commercially are rather cheap (it’s a couple dollars for a jar of dehydrated ones).
But if you grew them yourself…well the flavor is off the charts. And fresh onions often don’t cause uncontrollable crying while you cut them. Especially the sweet types. I’d cry once, clean my face with cold water and be fine.
Big hand sized ones!
So this summer I harvested our onions, cleaned them up and then cut them into half moons.
I froze them flat on cookie sheets (lined with parchment paper, to make removal easier). Then I bagged them up into gallon freezer bags until I had 5 bags worth or so.
You will notice a pronounced smell in your freezer for a few hours, until they are bagged up. Especially if you are buying onions, and they are “storage” ones, that have sat well cured, in the cold, for 6 months to a year. Fresh dissipates a lot faster.
I transferred the frozen onions to the freeze-dryer trays and popped them in for the cycle, which is on automatic. We didn’t have to add any extra time for this cycle.
The onions will be light, and crispy, snapping easily when dried. Sweet onions like this can be eaten raw, right out of the machine.
I cut them in big pieces, but they are easily broken by hand to make into smaller pieces for adding to trail meals.
Once fully dry, remove and bag up immediately, adding in an oxygen absorber packet in each bag. We also added a desiccant packet to each container. Seal fully.
Mark what is in the bag, and what day you did it on.
I used a combination of glass mason jars and mylar bags to store them in for both at home cooking, and for future trail meals.
And yes, the taste and texture was well worth the cost, even if possibly it would have been cheaper to just buy them ready to use.
I did a tray of purple onions a friend grew, so she could have long-term onions as well. She used her “ugly” scraps from when she was pickling red onions. No waste that way!
I ran another batch when I did this, with more sweet onions I had, her purples, lean diced ham (2 trays) and a yellow split pea soup. Keeping the flavor profiles similar.
There was no noticeable smell left behind in the freeze-dryer after the batches. That had been a concern of mine.
It was a worthy cycle of our freeze-dryer, these last 2 runs.
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