Dehydrating Food

Drying is the oldest method of preserving food. The early American settlers dried foods such as corn, apple slices, currants, grapes, and meat. Compared with other methods, drying is quite simple. In fact, you may already have most of the equipment on hand. Dried foods keep well because the moisture content is so low that spoilage organisms cannot grow. Drying will never replace canning and freezing because these methods do a better job of retaining the taste, appearance, and nutritive value of fresh food. But drying is an excellent way to preserve foods that can add variety to meals and provide delicious, nutritious snacks. One of the biggest advantages of dried foods is that they take much less storage space than canned or frozen foods.

Recommended methods for canning and freezing have been determined by research and widespread experience. Home drying, however, does not have firmly established procedures. Food can be dried several ways, for example, by the sun if the air is hot and dry enough, or in an oven or dryer if the climate is humid. With the renewed interest in gardening and natural foods and because of the high cost of commercially dried products, drying foods at home is becoming popular again. Drying is not difficult, but it does take time and a lot of attention. Although there are different drying methods, the guidelines remain the same. Dependable solar dehydration of foods requires 3 to 5 consecutive days when the temperature is 95 degrees F. and the humidity is very low.

Drying food in the oven of a kitchen range, on the other hand, can be very expensive. In an electric oven, drying food has been found to be nine to twelve times as costly as canning it. Food dehydrators are less expensive to operate but are only useful for a few months of the year. A convection oven can be the most economical investment if the proper model is chosen. A convection oven that has a controllable temperature starting at 120 degrees F. and a continuous operation feature rather than a timer-controlled one will function quite well as a dehydrator during the gardening months. For the rest of the year it can be used as a tabletop oven. Drying your own food is easy and can be a big savings on many items, especially if the only other way to find the item is by mail. Some things are cheaper or less of a pain to just buy. What to look for in a dehydrator:

  • Ability to add trays
  • A wide range in temperatures
  • The heat being able to flow throughout the machine
  • For doing small or messy items , line the trays with parchment paper. It is naturally non stick, non porous and heat resistant.

Hamburger

Dry at 135 degrees.  Buy the leanest hamburger you can get. Cook it 100% done, breaking it up as much as you can, you want it tiny. When done, pour off as much grease as you can. Then rinse the meat in a strainer with hot water. Drain well, blotting with paper towels. At this point put it on your dehydrator and dry till rock hard. Figure 3-6 hours. Stir every 30 minutes or so. You want to make sure there is no moisture left. Store in freezer bags.

Vegetables

Dry at 135 degrees.  Time will depend on how small cut and type of vegetable. Expect 3-1/2 hours. Using frozen vegetables will take less time than fresh. You are looking for hard when done. Moisture can cause mold, so let sit in a freezer bag for a couple hours after drying to see if moisture shows, if so, dry for longer. Frozen vegetables are excellent to use, as they are blanched for you, and give you a “precooked” vegetable. This will mean that they come back to life faster when rehydrating, and don’t need any extra cooking. You do not need to defrost either. If large pieces, do cut in small pieces.

Root Vegetables

Dry at 135 degrees.  Peel, cut up and steam your favorite variety (2 lbs. will give you enough for 4 servings). When done, drain and mash. Flavor how you like, but leave the butter or oil out. Maple syrup is very good to add, along with black pepper. Spread on lined trays in 1/2 cup servings. When dry, powder up, and package in quart freezer bags. Each bag will have one serving. Rehydrate by slowly adding hot water till you reach the perfect state.

Mushrooms

Dry at 135 degrees.  Pop the cap off the stem, toss the stems. If you have a egg slicer, use it to slice, then cross cut the caps. This gives you a smaller, and uniform drying surface. Dry for 4-10 hours, depending on humidity. 8 ounces of prepped mushrooms will give a shy 1 ounce when dry (about 2/3 of a cup). The heat while drying does cook them just enough that you can use them in freezer bag cooking with no extra cooking needed.

Fruits

Dry at 135 degrees for 3-12 hours on average. Time depends on how thin the fruit is sliced. You are looking for pliable but not damp, wet or overly sticky. On some fruits and berries, you will want to do a dip in lemon juice (mixed with water). This will prevent browning of the fruit. If the fruit browns after being cut, dip it. Rehydration is equal amounts water to product.

Pasta/Ramen/Oriental Noodles

When a recipe calls for “cooked dried pasta” it is referring to pasta you cook at home, till al dente, drained, rinsed and dried at 135 degrees in a dehydrator (depending on type, 2-6 hours, till good and dry-you are looking for hard and almost brittle. No flexibility at all.). If you want to use dried pasta in recipes of your own making, the rehydration method is equal pasta to water. I would suggest 1/2 cup of pasta per person if you are adding meat. Otherwise give 1 cup of pasta per person if not. In camp add the boiling water to your freezer bag (ie.1/2 cup pasta, 1/2 cup water). Seal, put in cozy for a good 10-15 minutes. Be sure to shake the bag once or twice to make sure everything gets coated. After it has cooked up, you could add whatever sauce you want. The Knorr pasta sauce packets are great-and can be done in a freezer bag when you first do the pasta. As a tip, undercook your pasta by one to two minutes, as it will finish cooking while being rehydrated. In camp use boiling water, and let sit in a cozy for 5-15 minutes.

Rice

Dry at 135-140 degrees.  Any type of fully cooked rice can be dried. Wild rice and brown rice work well this way. You want hard, almost brittle. You will need to break it up, and stir every 30 minutes.

Canned Meats

A lot of people don’t realize that you can dehydrate canned chicken easily-and it comes back to life simply. While pop-top cans and the newer pouched versions of canned chicken are convenient, and easy to get (and affordable if bought at Target or Wal-Mart), it can be heavy to carry, and you also have to hump out empty cans/bags. Which tend to have a strong smell. And not everyone wants to use the broth in the cans, draining it in the backcountry is not a good choice in bear country. And you can also use the same way to dry canned turkey, tuna, or ham…which usually do not have pop top lids. You can also find lower sodium versions sometimes, and this is a great way to watch salt if you need to. I use one dehydrator tray per can. Open the cans, and drain well. Put on prepared trays. Using clean hands, smash up the meat, till it has no big chunks. This will help with the drying and with rehydrating. Spread each can evenly over one tray. Dry at 135 degrees till dry. Expect 4-8 hours, this will vary by the temp/humidity in your house. When dry, store in freezer bags, in your freezer till trip time. This helps the meat stay fresh. Since canned meat has some fat left in it (though if you buy chicken breast versions it is usually 99% fat free), you do have some chance of it going rancid if stored in less than optimal conditions (i.e. in a hot kitchen, in summer). As a note, canned meats work in drying as they are essentially pressure-cooked. Boiling chicken at home and drying it will sadly give you chicken jerky. Though if you pressure cook chicken, it will work usually.

Canned meats though tend to be safer overall.

Canned Beans

Beans, well drained and well rinsed, then spread on a lined tray, dried at 135* for between 4-6 hours. Bean should be bone dry. They will split open while drying. A 15 ounce can become about 2 1/2 ounces when dry.

 

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