With having less commute time and more at home time I’ve been catching up on my dehydrating. This is not my body dehydrating (bad) but food dehydrating (good). Preparing your own meals for backpacking trip is more work than picking up some Mountain House bags at the store, but you know what ingredients are going into your body and how your supper is going to taste. Your choices are only limited by what you want to make.
What to dehydrate:
Because dehydrating is the process of removing water, you can dehydrate most food, though oily foods don’t dry as well. Don’t limit yourself to only fruits and vegetables. Cooked meats, sauces, breads, and even complete meals can be dried. Keep in mind, dehydrating and rehydrating is not magic. You have to start with good food to end up with good food.
Sauces and liquids turn into “leather” (think fruit roll-ups) or “bark” that can be used in soups, stews or puddings. Fruit leather is also great for just snacking. When dried properly, leather will tear and bark will break or crumble.
When dehydrating full meals, there are a couple of things to consider. The ingredients may not dry evenly or at the same pace. While preparing the meal you might also need to cut the pieces smaller than you normally would to help with the drying process.
Home food dehydrators range from $40 to several hundred. Any will do, but having an adjustable temperature is nice. A timer would be nice as well when you want to go to bed but don’t want it to run all night, but mine doesn’t have one. You could also use an outlet timer.
Cut fruits, veggies and meats into small, uniform pieces. Thinner pieces dry faster. Lay pieces on the dehydrator with a bit of spaces between them for air flow. Depending on the size of holes in your tray, parchment paper should be used to line the trays for smaller pieces. Parchment paper should also be used for liquids such as blended fruits or salsa. Spread the sauce into a thin, even layer on the paper for drying.
Drying times vary depending on the type of food, how much is being dried, and the temperature setting. I tend to rotate my trays a few times throughout the process to ensure even drying. Most drying is done at temps between 125 and 155, and is completed in 4 to 10 hours.
Dehydrated foods are generally stored in zip-top bags or jars, if you are going to use them in the next several months. If I’m keeping them longer term, I will vacuum seal them to pull out all of the air. I also vacuum seal and freeze anything that is naturally oily, like cheese or andouille sausage (jambalaya!). These oils are hard to completely remove in the dehydrating process and they equate to moisture. Moisture is bad if you are trying to store food for long periods. For most dried foods, a jar or zip top bag is fine.
- Mix bread crumbs with raw hamburger before cooking the meat. This will help it rehydrate and not be crunchy.
- I try to avoid vacuum sealing fruits and leathers as this will turn them into one lump that won’t come apart easily on the trail.
- Scrambled eggs rehydrate better when mixed with cooked polenta before dehydrating.
- Just about any fruit combination you can think of (for example, banana-mango or pear-sour apple-banana) when blended and dried, becomes a delicious leather for snacking or turning into a desert pudding.
- Most of what I have learned about dehydrating has come from trial and error, or from Recipes for Adventure by Chef Glen Mcallister. This book has great tips and delicious trail recipes.
- For convenience, dried and package foods, as well as trail-ready soups and stews can be purchased from Harmony House and shipped to your door.