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DIY Dehydration

DIY Dehydration

Trail Food with the Goatman Installment #2

Contents:

1. Introduction
2. Materials and Tools
3. Key Factors to Success
4. Storage and Trail Preparation
5. Tips and Tricks
6. Resources

1: Introduction

Dehydration is easy. Just hike into the wilderness without any water, lie down in the hot sun, and wait for a day or two. Oh, this blog is supposed to be about dehydrated food? Well, I can do that too, I suppose. The principle is the same.

So, you’re going on a backpacking trip but you don’t want to starve. Typical human urge. You would also like to cut the weight in your pack to a minimum so that you don’t get super strong and grizzled like the Goatman, who town folk whisper about dreadfully in the night (though I am usually out cold at sundown and miss all the late night small talk). Or maybe you just don’t enjoy hauling around 50 pound packs for some reason. Either way, a simple, effective way to cut down on pack weight is to bring dehydrated foods. Backpacking 101, right? Well, this blog entry isn’t just a list of prepackaged foods that you can buy at the store (though they do come in handy on those really long hauls). What I aim to do here is to lay out the basics of DIY dehydrating from your own home with a focus on preparing weeks, if not months, ahead of time for backcountry adventures.
To be honest, my interest in dehydrating goes beyond backpacking. Sure, I love the fact that foods with moisture removed become lighter and easier to pack. I also love that I can supplement store-bought noodles and instant rice meals with veggies and meat that I myself prepared, adding not only to the flavor of the meal, but also to the nutritional value. Good food equals good health and that goes double for hard-working backpackers whose options are limited.

That, however, is but the beginning of the usefulness of dehydration. When water is removed from food, you are also preserving that food by denying bacteria a foothold. Just like us humans, those little food spoilers need water to live and to reproduce. Dehydrating increases the shelf life of food to a great extent (exact numbers depend, of course, on the properties of the exact food itself). So, when fruits and vegetables are in season and relatively cheap, I can stock up, knowing that the portion I don’t use immediately can be dehydrated and kept throughout the winter. Have a garden? Perfect. Plant some extra rows. You’ll be making stews all winter with dehydrated vegetables. There is a lot of money to be saved with DIY dehydrating, money you could be using to plan your next trek.

2: Materials and Tools

   That brings me to the meat of it: What do you need to get started? Behold, the basics:
1. Dehydrator. These can run you anywhere from $50-$300. In its most basic form, this is a box with a hot air fan blowing through ventilated trays on which food is placed. Opting for a model that has both a timer and a thermostat will make dehydrating a variety of foods a lot easier.
2. Colander. There are times when you will need to blanch food (we’ll deal with this in a moment). This handy tool makes it easy to remove excess moisture from food before it is placed into the dehydrator.
3. Heat-proof metal strainer. Again, for blanching.
4. Fine mesh tray liners. These are normally sold specifically for dehydrators by the manufacturer. They allow you to dry food that becomes tiny when dehydrated without it all falling down into the bottom of the machine.
5. Parchment paper. For dehydrating wet items such as fruit leather, soups, or chili. Can also be used to prevent sticking (in the case of high sugar fruit such as strawberries, for example). Alternatively, the manufacturer of the dehydrator may also make a specific “leather tray” that is a reusable alternative.
6. Sharp knives. The more precise you are when cutting food, the more evenly that food will dry. This is huge and we’ll talk more about this later, but don’t count out the importance of a simple, sharp kitchen knife.
7. Vegetable peeler. Sometimes, the skin of a vegetable or fruit needs to be removed before dehydrating. Make sure you have a sharp one. No use wasting food by peeling too much of it away with a dull peeler.
8. Air-tight Containers. Glass or metal containers with air-tight lids work the best for long-term storage. Plastic bags are great when packing for your trip, but let in too much air and moisture to be effective for long-term storage.
Some other things you might consider having around would be a food processor or blender, a jerky gun, kitchen scissors, or a mandolin. These items are used very specifically. As a first time dehydrator, I wouldn’t worry about these until you’re ready to branch out.

 

3: Key Factors to SuccessIMG_1833

 

So you’ve got your kitchen ready. Before you get to chopping and waiting patiently, there are a few things to consider that, if done correctly, will save a lot of time later on.
First, you must prepare the food to be dehydrated in the appropriate manner. Not all food dehydrates equally. There are ways to deal with stubborn food that we will get to in a moment. Here, I simply want to state a few basics that apply to all and any food being dehydrated.
The act of dehydrating goes something like this: hot air moves over the surface of object, carrying away moisture. As the outside of the object loses moisture, water from the center of the object moves to the outside (this is called diffusion). When all of the moisture is diffused, the object is thus dehydrated. Diffusion itself is a slow process, however, and can be helped along by cutting food into the appropriate thickness, thus revealing extra surface area over which air can move and moisture can escape.
Cut your food evenly into 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) pieces. This thickness helps foods to dry quickly and evenly while being thick enough to prevent over drying.
Once cut uniformly, you will want to spread the food as uniformly as possible. This prevents uneven drying. You may also need to rotate the trays within the dehydrator as food closer to the fan may dry faster than that further away. It’s all about balance here. You want all of your food to dry equally in order to prevent over drying of some and under drying of the rest.
Other factors in successful dehydration are all tied up together. For every food product, there is an appropriate time and temperature:
1. Most fruits and vegetables do well at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Meats must be set at a higher temperature to ward off bacteria. 155-160 degrees Fahrenheit will do the trick.
3. Herbs can be more delicate than other foods. 110 degrees Fahrenheit will work for these tasty treats.
For a more comprehensive list of drying temperatures, as well as times to expect, see the list of resources at the bottom of this article. I don’t have room here to go into great detail, unfortunately, but there are a lot of great books on the subject.
Consistent temperature is important. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that cranking up the temperature in order to speed up the dehydration process will work well. In a lot of cases, this will actually slow down your drying time due to a little something called “case hardening”. Basically, a higher temperature than what is recommended can dry out the outside of your food to an extent that it hinders the process of diffusion from the inside. Think of searing a steak to lock in moisture. We are going for the opposite of that. Consistent, correct temperature will in the end not only dry food faster, but will also retain the flavor of foods once re-hydrated.

 

4: Storage and Trail Preparation

 

I have already mentioned the fact that air-tight containers are ideal for long-term storage of dehydrated food. These can be made of glass or metal. You will want to store these in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight such as a pantry or cabinet. Foods can also be refrigerated after drying to increase the shelf life. Another common practice is to obtain a vacuum sealer and to freeze the food once sealed. For long-term storage, this is obviously the best option. However, if you know that you will be using the foods within 6 months to a year, such measures are not required.
There are a few things to look for when storing dehydrated food:
1. Again, make sure all of the food is evenly dried. If some food contains moisture, this can leach out into the rest of the food, allowing bacteria to spread or mold to grow.
2. Some foods turn strange colors when dehydrated raw (cauliflower turns purplish black. Yum.) This can be avoided by a process called blanching. Blanching is boiling a vegetable or fruit for a short of amount of time, mainly to kill the enzymes that cause discoloration. Blanching can also loosen cells in tougher foods, such as broccoli, that allow for a tenderer re-hydration.
3. If oxygen permeates your container, even well dehydrated food can develop off flavors. Make sure those lids are on tight!
When preparing for a backpacking trip, take your food out and put it in a plastic bag. Make sure, however, not to mix foods that are not meant to be together (onion flavored blueberries anyone?). If you dehydrate ingredients separately, you can combine them before leaving for a trip into single meal packets. For example, I have dehydrated onions, peppers, kidney beans, tomato sauce, and ground beef. Throw it all in a bag and I’ve got some backcountry chili. It only gets more elaborate from here. Below, in the resource section, I have listed a variety of great dehydrated food cookbooks that are more decadent than you thought possible.

5: Tips and Tricks

I am going to get specific here for a section and troubleshoot a few common problems one might come across while dehydrating different styles of food. Obviously, this list is not comprehensive, but is meant as a good starting place for beginners.
1. Produce

Fruits and vegetables are traditionally the easiest type of food to start dehydrating. In fact, starting out by experimenting with some basics will teach you a lot your first time through. So go ahead and slice up those apples (evenly). That brings us to our first tip: color preservation. Food you buy in the store has all sorts of preservatives to protect color. One point of DIY dehydrating is to avoid such things. This one is easy. Take a 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 4 cups of water, mix them in a bowl, and soak your apples in this solution as you slice. This will prevent browning.

Another common problem with produce is how to dehydrate “tough” fruits and vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, green beans etc.). I have already mentioned the answer a few times: blanching. The rule here is, if you don’t typically eat the food raw, blanching will help with re-hydration when the time comes. Take your food and cut it up while boiling enough water to cover all of your food. Place the food into a heat-proof metal strainer, dip it into the boiling water for approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute, and remove from the water. Throw in a colander to drain and you’re ready to put it in the dehydrator.

Some fruits have a thick casing, such as blueberries and cranberries. This is nature’s way of preventing dehydration, so we have to be smarter than nature (or at least a bit clever now and then). The case must be broken to allow diffusion to occur. This can be done by heating until the case breaks (the fast, easy way, though flavor may be affected) or you can pierce the casings individually with a toothpick or other pokey object (tedious, yes, but makes for better tasting fruit).

2. Starches and Beans

I put these together because they share a common method. Both starches (rice, pasta, barley, etc.) and beans must both be cooked prior to dehydration for fast and effective re-hydration (Canned beans are ready to use and don’t require extra cooking). We’ll use an example that involves both: red beans and rice. Delicious, nutritious, and filling, this makes a great trail meal. Although both beans and rice are dry when you buy them at the store, both take a long time (hours in some cases) to cook as to be edible. Instead of wasting fuel in the wilderness, cook these ingredients at home, either separately or together, and then dehydrate the meal afterwards. When you get out on the trail, fire up your camp stove, boil some water and you’re done. The meal should only take a few minutes to rehydrate, saving you both time and fuel when such things are a precious commodity.

3. Jerky

Jerky takes a while to perfect and I don’t have the space here to treat it as in-depth as I would like. Luckily, there are a lot of great books and recipes out there that take the guessing out of jerky making.
Here I will simply mention the basics of choosing an appropriate cut of meat (you’re on your own for finding a recipe that you like!). The general rule with jerky is that the leaner the meat, the longer the jerky will last. Fat and oil are enemies of dehydration, unfortunately. Any fat left in a piece of dehydrated meat (or anything for that matter. I’m looking at you, avocados) will eventual turn rancid and ruin your snack.
That being said, you want to look for meat with less than 2% fat content. Cooking your meat and draining the excess fat is the first step (which also kills any bacteria within the meat). While dehydrating, you will need to periodically test your jerky with a paper towel. If oil is absorbed, take your meat and press it between paper towels to remove the oil. Do this a few times on and off and, once the meat is dried to your liking, do one last test. If no oil comes out, you’re good to go.

4. Leathers

I’m not talking about cow hide here. Leather, whether fruit or vegetable, is a pureed, dried form that is great for snacking, among other uses. Basic fruit leather can consist of nothing more than applesauce and your favorite berries, mixed together and dried into strips. This is where a food processor or blender can come in handy.

A few tips for good leather: Press the fruit mash down when placing it on your leather tray or parchment paper. Avoid spreading, especially spreading thinly. Once again, the magic dimension is 1/4 inch. This thickness is more important than covering the whole tray. 1/4 inch, pressed uniformly, will make for leather that doesn’t over dry and crack. Leathers will firm when cooled, so don’t worry if it’s a bit wobbly when first removed. A good indicator is the stickiness of the leather: too mushy means underdone, not sticky at all means overdone.

If making veggie leather, it is better to powder the result after dehydrating than to leave it in its leather form. The whole point of veggie leather is to add flavor and nutrition to meals. Powdering makes this easy. A food processor works best for this.

Don’t forget: leather doesn’t have to be all fruit snacks and veggie powder. Take some tomato sauce and follow the instructions for making leather. Ta da. You have backcountry pasta sauce that doesn’t weigh much. Try this with salsa or barbecue sauce and suddenly your bland backpacking meals aren’t so bland anymore.

IMG_70526: Resources

Goatman didn’t invent dehydrating food. Caveman did (or cave woman. I don’t know. I wasn’t there). The point being this: I have tried to lay out some basics for DIY dehydrating, but there is a lot more to learn. The best way to learn, as in all things, is through trial and error. To start out on the best foot, however, there are some resources that have been a great help to me and my friends as we prepare for our trips, treks, and rambles across this wild planet of ours. Below are a few specifics I have found helpful (I left out internet resources simply because there are too many to include and a simple search will pull up more than you will ever need). We stock a lot of these at RRT, so stop in for some knowledge.

MacKenzie, Jennifer, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer. The Dehydrator Bible. Ontario: Robert Rose, 2009. Print

March, Laurie Ann. Fork in the Trail: Mouthwatering Meals and Tempting Treats for the Backcountry. Birmingham: Wilderness Press, 2007. Print.

March, Laurie Ann. Another Fork in the Trail: Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes for the Backcountry. Birmingham: Wilderness Press, 2011. Print.
Meredith, Leda. Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More. Woodstock: Countryman Press, 2014. Print.

Trail Food with the Goatman

Installment #1: Dehydrated Fruits/Veggies

by Goatman

I like to eat food. When I go out for a hike and a ramble, burning up calories in the hills, climbing and sweating, I like to eat food even more and lots of it. And so the familiar catch-22 of backpacking presents itself: to have the energy to carry enough food so that you have the energy to carry enough food. What you need is high calorie food that packs well and doesn’t weigh a ton. That’s the easy part.

Unfortunately, calories are not everything. Replenishing vitamins, minerals, and proteins becomes a challenge, especially on multi-day treks with few or no resupplies. Yes, you can eat Ramen noodles, candy bars, instant potatoes and bland (or worse, overly sugared) oatmeal for every meal and survive perfectly well. I have done my share of hiking on just sugar and carbs and I’ve done my share of feeling drained and grumpy by the end of the day, hollering curses at the beautiful sunset wishing it were a steak and a salad instead of a boiling mass of hydrogen gracing my eyes from the depths of space.

I learned a lot on the Appalachian Trail. One of the most important lessons, looking back, was to listen to my body. After all, we are, in some sense, a big bag of chemicals. Hiking is a great way to empty that bag and it’s important to replace what has been lost. Ten years ago, I would have never said the following, but here goes: vegetables are amazing, even more so when you’re looking to accomplish feats of endurance and strength with a smile on your face, day after day.

Enter the hikers’ best friend: dehydrated fruits and vegetables. Here at RRT, we have started carrying Just Tomatoes dehydrated foods. Don’t let the name fool you. They certainly make dehydrated tomatoes, but that is only the beginning. Below is a list of products that we are now carrying:

DSC_0671

Just Veggies (a blend of corn, peas, carrots, bell peppers and tomatoes)

Just Hot Veggies (a blend of jalapeno peppers, corn, peas, carrots, bell peppers and tomatoes)

Just Peas

Just Blueberries

Just Raspberries

Just Strawberries/Bananas

Just Fruit Munchies (a blend of apples, grapes, blueberries, cherries, mangoes, pineapple and raspberries)

Just Cherries (take a look at the benefits of sour cherries in regards to physical exertion and see what you find!)

You would be surprised what a difference it makes in your hike when you throw a handful of berries and/or bananas in your oatmeal in the morning or rehydrate a serving of veggies in the same water as your noodles at night. Or you can do what I do, which is to eat them straight out of the bag throughout the day, crunch and all. Peanut butter wraps a bit dull without jelly? Rehydrate some berries, smash them up, and there you are, instant fruit spread. Experimenting is half the fun.

So eat your veggies, friends, even on the summit or in the wilderness, on the river or under the earth. No excuses now!

As a bonus, here’s a quick and easy recipe for oat bars:

Ingredients
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup flour
1 cup Just Fruit Munchies (or pick your favorite)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. In a food processor, blend oats, flour, Just Fruit Munchies and almonds until all of the ingredients are finely chopped. In a bowl, mix syrup, eggs and applesauce; add to oat mixture and combine until well blended. Pour into baking pan and spread evenly. Bake for 20 minutes; remove from oven and let cool. Cut into 20 squares.

 

 

Southbound: episode 4

September 29th 2006
Written by: Bryan Wolf and Joe White

256 miles of the AT in 22 days leaves us 25 miles from the Maine – New Hampshire state line!!!! We are really excited to have made it to Andover , ME. It means we have cranked out a lot of hard miles and we are about to finish the 2nd longest state only to Virginia and 2nd hardest only to New Hampshire . After leaving Stratton on the 23rd, we had to hike through 2 days of cold rain. It was more like walking amongst the clouds and the wet rocks and roots were like walking on ice. We had to climb over Crocker and Sugarloaf Mountain ranges except we couldn’t see anything other than a screen of fog.

There was no rain on the 3rd day as hoped and forecasted, which really helped us get up and over the incredible Saddleback Range . The views from the 4000+ ft mountains were incredible. I think we were able to see Mt. Washington for the first time in the distance. We had plans to put in a lot of miles, but when we came across Piazza Rock lean-to, the best well kept lean-to on the AT, we just had to stop. It was an early day, but we built a nice fire, dried out the tent and some clothes, and just enjoyed the evening. We had a huge owl join us by the campfire just after dark. It was so sweet, I could see the fire in his eyes.Fall on the Appalachian Trail

The next morning, we hiked a couple of miles and hitched a ride into Rangely, so that Tundra Wookie could get some knee braces and grab some grub. It took a couple hours away from our hike, but it was worth it. We still continued to do another 14 miles after our hitch back to the trail head. It feels good to have a good hiking day like that, especially after a long break in the day. Our bodies are becoming more adjusted to the work load that we force on them day-to-day.
The following day was bright, as the sun smiled upon us our whole way over the Bemis Mountain Range. The range was not the highest, but the sun on the fall colors bellow was awesome! We were in-between the several peaks when the two of us stopped dead in our tracks, and in silence, listened. It was obvious, there was either a tank running through the trees, or a moose was approaching? We stared, and watched as a Bull Moose, with a rack that four people could sit on, crumpled the surrounding brush as it slowly walked by. It was crazy to see, it was like a mythical creature until you see it so close in the wild. The day was capped off at a tent site by an old state road and a small brook. There we met a couple that was doing several day hikes on their vacation, and had hiked the AT before. We would enjoy in some “Trail Magic” as the couple volunteered two Red Hook Late Harvest Ales that night, and oatmeal cookies the following morning. We built our fire, enjoyed hot cider and our dehydrated lasagna dishes, yum yums.

We were visited the next morning by a moose as well, unable to get a look, we could only hear it as it ran though the brook splashing like a stampede of horses. The next morning we moved up, over, and around mountains like they were nothing at all. Before we knew it we had done nearly 11 miles to the road to Andover , the afternoon had barely begun! We are staying at the Roadhouse hostel, it is a little weird for us. The place is great, clean, warm, well equipped, and friendly, that is when people are here.White Blaze

We spend so much time it the wilderness, and then come into the smallest of towns, something we are already not very a custom to. We arrived and a general note on the door says to make yourself at home, so we do. One attendant leaves about an hour into our stay and the other never shows up? So its the two of us in a huge three story B&B style/Hostel, internet, kitchen, bath, living room, dining room, laundry, a dozen private rooms, and bunkhouse all to ourselves, all night. We came and went, to the general store and post office and back. It feels like were not supposed to be here, like we broke in or something. We are enjoying our time and gluttonous urges as we restock, and carefully plan out our hike for the days to come. Our next “Zero Day” is planned for Hanover NH , right before we reach Vermont , about 180 miles from here, our bodies will be fully exhausted by then. We miss everyone very much, and thank you for the strength you give us each day. Everyday becomes more amazing!

This exert was originally published on atwishhikers.com. It’s content has not been edited from the original post.

Epilogue:
by: Bryan Wolf

Joe and I took off our shirts atop Avery Mountain for a photo op in the chilly breeze.  I feel like this picture summarized our feelings well; we were having fun and enjoying the hike. The Saddleback and Bemis Range have to be two of the most beautiful mountain ranges next to the White Mountains. It is still unreal to think back on some of these days, my heart filled with gratitude to all those that helped us and opened their arms for us. There are a many things and many people that don’t seem to be real anymore. These places and people are far from city life. We had done another gear purge at Andover as well, this took our once 70 pound packs down to the more reasonable 50-55 that we would hike with the rest of the trip.Avery Peak Flex