This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Garden Mom
For food storage, we have all heard the saying “Store what you eat, eat what you store.” I’m going to tweak that a bit and suggest you “store what you didn’t eat” through dehydration. Almost everything can be dehydrated and if you dehydrate the foods you normally eat, but just didn’t get to finish, you can preserve them and eat the foods you are accustomed to later on. Dehydrated foods can last a very long time if preserved correctly, and they can be mixed in with many foods.
First, you need a decent dehydrator. There are very expensive dehydrators available, but to stay within my budget I needed to spend less than $50.00. I decided on the Snackmaster from Nesco, and found it on sale for $39.99. I added the fruit leather trays and fine mesh trays for another $5.00. After dehydrating for just a few weeks, I really wished I had another dehydrator because I could do such amazing things with it. But now that I have used it for over a year, I have figured out how to get everything done with just this one machine – I use it a lot.
Second, dehydrating is much easier than canning. I have canned vegetables, meat, and tomatoes for years, so I thought dehydrating would be similar. Wrong – it is very easy. If you’re uncomfortable with canning, but want to try preserving your own food, dehydrating is a great way to start, especially if you start with your own leftovers.
Third, the hardest thing about dehydrating is knowing how long to leave the food in the dehydrator. Various books and websites will list times with enormous ranges (4-20 hours) for each food. I didn’t understand this at first, but then I thought about how much humidity there is at my location each time I run the dehydrator and I can plan roughly how long I need to run the machine. In the summer with its higher humidity, it takes almost twice as long to dehydrate the same item in the winter. This accounts for the ranges. I keep notes with dates and times to refer to the next time I dehydrate something.
Here are examples what I have dehydrated:
- Fruit leather tray with cottage cheese that was going to expire in a few days
- Fruit leather tray with leftover plain white rice
- Fine mesh tray with celery cut into ¼” slices
- Regular tray with leftover plain pasta
- Fine mesh tray with diced apples
- Fruit leather tray with ½ jar of applesauce
- Regular tray with banana sliced ¼”
Note that the foods without much smell were all in one batch, and the foods with more pronounced smells were in a different batch. You want to plan for the smells because they can intermingle, especially when you dehydrate a variety of foods. Plan to dry foods that have similar smells together, example fruits, strong-smelling vegetables (broccoli, cabbage), weaker smelling vegetables (carrots, celery, potatoes), foods from one meal (beef roast, carrots, potatoes or refried beans, taco meat).
Temperature – fruits, vegetables, rice/pasta, cottage cheese, already cooked meat all dry at 135 degrees; raw meats (beef jerky) at 145-155 degrees. Arrange each different food on one tray so that there is a little space between each piece. This makes it easier to put the dried food into the little baggies after it is fully dehydrated. Example: beef roast cut into ½” cubes on one tray, carrots sliced into ¼” slices on another tray.
Storage – I label and date small snack size baggies, add the cooled, dehydrated food, then squeeze out all the air. This little baggie goes into a freezer type baggie with other baggies of the same food, again squeeze all the air out, then store in the freezer. Example: “green pepper 12/28/11” on the little baggie, then the larger baggie says “Green Pepper”.
- Apples – core, cut into wedges about ¼- ½” wide, then slice into ¼” pieces. Great in oatmeal, biscuits, trail mix, etc.
- Applesauce – spread ¼” thick and dry into fruit leather – can be mixed with other leftover fruit, but don’t add any sugar or honey as it makes the fruit leather sticky and too sweet. Eat as is.
- Bananas – peel, cut into ¼” slices. Eat as is or rehydrate for banana bread, muffins.
- Berries – mix with applesauce for fruit leather, or dry whole.
- Peaches – great mixed with applesauce for fruit leather, or cut into 1/4’” pieces. Eat as fruit leather, mix the pieces in trail mix, oatmeal, biscuits, etc.
- Pears – core, cut into wedges about ¼- ½” wide, then slice into ¼” pieces. Great in oatmeal, trail mix, etc. Or put in blender with applesauce for fruit leather.
- Rhubarb – cut into ½” pieces.
- Beans (green) – dry in whatever size they were when you cooked them originally. Great in minestrone soup.
- Cabbage – we dry the grated kind that comes in a bag for making cole slaw.
- Carrots – cut into ¼” slices
- Celery – cut into ¼” slices
- Corn – dry individual pieces, if on the cob, shuck first.
- Onions – NOTE: smells very strong – place dehydrator outside or in garage. Dice in ¼” pieces.
- Peppers (green, red, yellow) – dice into ¼” pieces
- Potatoes – Boiled – cut into ¼” slices or shred, depending on how you want to use them later
Mashed – spread thinly (1/8”) onto the fruit leather tray. Dry until brittle, crush into powder, use to thicken liquids for gravies or soups. (The first tomato soup recipe I ever made called for one boiled, mashed potato to thicken it instead of cream or milk. In an emergency situation you wouldn’t need to use your stored milk powder to have a creamy soup.)
Tomatoes – Mostly we dry tomatoes after they have been made into something else. Everything dries and rehydrates well. Examples: spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup, the liquid leftover from canning tomatoes that isn’t enough for another jar, etc.)
Zucchini – Grate and squeeze between paper towels before drying to get out excess moisture. Add 1 tablespoon to spaghetti sauce to add vitamins and help thicken it slightly.
Or, slice into thin (1/8”) slices. Dip in your favorite salad dressing mixed with equal parts water. Drain, then dehydrate. Yummy veggie chips.
- Cut cooked meat into ½” cubes or strips about ½” wide. Dry until leathery.
Jerky is made from uncooked meat, spices, and salt. I buy the packets to mix with ground beef but there are tons of recipes available if you want to try jerky. Meat jerky must be dried at 145-155 degrees until leathery. Leftover jerky can be broken into small (1/4”-1/2” pieces) and rehydrated with other ingredients to make jerky stew or soups.
Cheese – grate, then spread out on paper towels cut to fit your trays exactly (no overhang). Dry until hard. Leave pieces as they are or crumble for cheese powder. NOTE: use real cheese, not processed cheese. All the books I have say that you can only dry already hard cheeses like parmesan, but I have had good luck with Cheddar and Colby. I add it to dishes that require the cheese to be melted into it or melted on top. It doesn’t rehydrate into a product like regular cheese.
Cottage cheese – spread on trays. Dry until brittle. Crumble into a powder. Can be added to cooked recipes to thicken them or add flavor. A good example of this is when I made Norwegian Meatcakes and the sauce was just not thickening. I stirred in 1 teaspoon of dried cottage cheese powder and let it simmer for a few minutes. Not enough, so I added another 1 teaspoon of the powder and again let it simmer. Then the sauce was the desired creaminess.
- Yogurt – plain – add to applesauce or other fruit to make interesting fruit leather. Use about ¼ yogurt and ¾ applesauce/fruit.
- Flavored – dry like fruit leather, eat like fruit leather.
- Pasta – place on trays with a little space between them. Dry until brittle. Bag gently so they don’t break. These rehydrate quickly in room temperature water.
- Rice – place on the fine mesh insert, stir occasionally during drying to break them apart. Dry until brittle. Bag gently so they don’t crumble.
Using dehydrated foods
Fruits are very good eaten in their dried form as trail mix or fruit leather. They can be added to oatmeal or other cereal during the cooking process, just add an equal amount of water to allow for the rehydration. To add them to pancakes or other similar foods, rehydrate first by combining equal parts fruit and water. Start with less than you think you will need because they expand to about twice their dehydrated size. For my family of four, I rehydrate about 1 tablespoon of apple pieces with 1 tablespoon water in a little dish while I combine the other ingredients for the pancakes.
Vegetables are used in different ways. Sometimes they are just combined with water to rehydrate (spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup, etc.). Sometimes they can be put into your soup recipe (green beans, carrots, celery, corn, onion, peppers, zucchini, etc.). Dried vegetables that have been crumbled into powder can be added to bread or biscuit recipes. Powdered vegetables can also be used to make vegetable broth which will give you a lot of vitamins.
Simple Grid-down Recipes(2 servings):
- Drain 1 14 oz. can of peas, measure the liquid. Add enough water to equal 1 cup.
- Put 1 cup dehydrated pasta in a medium bowl, add the 1 cup of liquid. If desired, add 1 teaspoon dehydrated celery.
- Drain the tuna (I don’t use this liquid).
- After the pasta has rehydrated for a 5-10 minutes, check one piece to see if it ready, if so then drain any leftover water. Gently stir in the peas and tuna.
- Add 1-2 packets of mayo until desired creaminess.
- Salt/pepper, parsley to taste. A little fresh or dehydrated onion is good too.
- Chicken Soup with Rice
- Drain 1 10 oz can chicken, measure liquid. Add enough water to equal 4 cups.
- Put ½ cup dehydrated rice in a medium pan. Add 1 teaspoon each: dehydrated celery, green pepper, carrot, onion. Add ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of the 4 cups of liquid. Let rehydrate for 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken, remaining water, 4 teaspoons/tablespoons chicken broth powder (Note: soup powders vary in intensity – read your package to determine amount to add), spices like bay leaf, parsley, sage, salt/pepper. Heat until warm.
- Drain 1 14oz can carrots and 1 10 oz can chicken, measure liquid. Add enough water to equal 4 cups.
- Put ½ cup dehydrated rice in a medium pan. Add 1 teaspoon each: dehydrated celery, green pepper, onion. Add ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of the 4 cups of liquid. Let rehydrate for 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken, carrots, remaining water, 4 teaspoons/tablespoons chicken broth powder (Note: soup powders vary in intensity – read your package to determine amount to add), spices like bay leaf, parsley, sage, salt/pepper. Heat until warm.
Beef and Potatoes
- Drain 1 14 oz can of sliced potatoes, measure liquid. Add water to measure 1 ½ cups.
- Beef: Either tear beef jerky into bite size pieces or put ½ cup of dehydrated beef roast pieces in a medium pan. Add ½ cup of liquid. Allow about 15 minutes to rehydrate.
- Add the sliced potatoes, 2 tablespoons dehydrated cottage cheese, 1 teaspoon/tablespoon beef soup powder (Note: soup powders vary in intensity – read your package to determine amount to add), remaining water, parsley, salt/pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer until creamy.
- Rehydrate ½ cup of dehydrated leftover Mexican flavored ground beef and ½ cup refried beans in 1 cup water in a medium pan. Let sit for 15 minutes.
- In a small dish, place ½ cup dehydrated rice and ½ cup water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, then add to the meat (or meat/bean) mixture. Gently warm the meat/bean/rice mixture.
- In the now empty rice dish, place 1 tablespoon dehydrated salsa, add 1 tablespoon water. Let sit for a few minutes, stir.
- To serve, scoop the beef/bean/rice mixture onto your dish, then add salsa.
- If you have it: add a little dehydrated cheese after adding the rice to the meat/bean mixture.
There are a lot of good dehydrating cookbooks available and many of these are written for backpackers, so the menus include meals that use very little fuel. Typically the recipes call for all dehydrated food and water. I’ve tried to create recipes that use a mixture of canned and dehydrated foods.
Good dehydrating cookbooks:
Mary Bell’s Complete Dehydrator Cookbook by Mary Bell Great book for first time dehydrating. She gives examples on how to dry almost everything. Also has some recipes for using dehydrated foods.
Trail Food by Alan S. Kesselheim – easy to prepare and tasty recipes using dehydrated foods. I checked this one out from our library first, then decided to buy it.
Making and Using Dried Foods by Phyllis Hobson – she has information on both drying and using the dried foods. Good section on herbs.
The Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt and Don Mercer – a complete guide with both dehydrating and cooking with dried foods. They use a wide variety of foods which would help prevent food fatigue in difficult times.
This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:
- First Prize) Winner will receive a gift certificate for $170 worth of Winchester Ammo donated by Lucky Gunner. A Smith & Wesson Heat Treated Collapsible 21″ Baton and a copy of my book Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat.
- Second Prize) Winner will receive a Wise Food Storage meat bucket and 3 dozen Tattler Reusable Canning Lids donated by LPC Survival.
- Third Prize) Winner will receive a LifeStraw water filter system donated by Eartheasy and a copy of the Wolf Pack Cookbook.