Food dehydrating: The secret to packing light, small, & eating better in the bush.

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Food dehydrating: The secret to packing light, small, & eating better in the bush.

The key to affordable, lightweight, and good satisfying meals for longer outings is to dehydrate your own meals. It's much easier than people imagine. The commercial freeze-dried meals are sometimes good but sometimes not, tend to be on the small side when it comes to serving sizes, are packed full of air, and they are expensive.

If you're planning on making camping a regular thing, a food dehydrator is a wise investment. You just cook your own foods (like what you'd eat at home) dehydrate it, and rehydrate it when you're at camp. It's easy, it's fast, it's clean, it won't spoil, and it's blessedly light and compact, so you can bring satisfying meals without having to buy a huge pack.

If you're hesitant about purchasing a dehydrator, it's worth considering that a week's worth of store-bought freeze-dried meals for two people will cost nearly as much as a dehydrator. You can buy dehydrators secondhand for a much less than the price of a new one. Many people buy them intending to make jerky and fruit leathers for their kids, lose interest, and then want to sell them. Look one Craigslist, E-Bay, and Kijiji and you'll find them cheaply.

The shelf life of dehydrated foods depends on moisture exposure. If you pack your dehydrated foods in Zip-lock bags or vacuum sealed bags, they will last months and up to years. We dehydrate nearly all our food for a year's worth of camping in the early spring, bag it all, and store it in the freezer (just in case the bags aren't sealed right) and then we put the dehydrator away until next year. I've occasionally discovered bags of dehydrated salsa, spaghetti sauce and chili in the back of the fridge that was well over a year old and it was perfectly good when re-hydrated. And remember, the refrigeration isn't necessary; it's just a precaution in case your bags aren't sealed completely.

A few tips in connection with dehydrated meals:
Whenever you are trying out a camping recipe for the first time, RE-hydrate and cook up your camp meals at home before you go into the bush. So, if you plan to rehydrate a spaghetti sauce and make spaghetti in the bush, you do it all at home first, using ONLY what you'd have with you in the bush: rehydrate it using whatever you'll have with you in the bush, cook it on your camp stove, prepare and eat it using what you'd use in the bush. This will ensure that you know what you will need to bring for that meal. You don't want to discover that cooking up your shepherd's pie takes far longer than you had expected or that you don't have a container to spare to re-hydrate your mashed potatoes while you boil water to rehydrate for the ground beef and corn . This will also give you a good sense of how much of a dehydrated ingredient you need to bring for each portion. It won't look like a lot once it's dehydrated and you're likely to bring and re-hydrate more than you need unless you re-hydrate and prepare it at home the first time.

Put all the ingredients for a given meal together into one container or Zip-lock bag, label it, and include a short post-it note describing how to prepare it in the bush as it may be months before you actually cook up that meal. You will be amazed how similar dehydrated chili and spaghetti sauce can look and you don't want to botch a much anticipated supper because you mixed up the ingredients from two meals or forgot that you needed to rehydrate something for 45 minutes and you need to eat right now. You may discover that you need to add an extra Nalgene container or something like that to your cook kit to serve as mixing bowl/rehydrating container.

Don't worry about dehydrating too much of this or that. Dehydrated foods, even meats, will last and last if you toss 'em in the freezer. We have often gone camping in the spring using just ingredients we'd dehydrated the fall before and had kept in the freezer. So don't sweat it if you dehydrated peas, corn kernels and ground beef to add to some Kraft Dinner or pasta and find that you have too many peas. Leave 'em in the freezer until your next trip.

There are plenty of sites and videos about food dehydrating out there, but my wife and I made two how-to videos on this subject specifically for campers and outdoorsy types that includes meal ideas, ingredient preparation, best practices, etc. Here are the links for those who might be interested in giving this a try.

1 - Dehydrating & Preparing a Camping Meal: http://youtu.be/hu1-9DkmUKI

2 - Dehydrating Foods for Backcountry Camping Meals: http://youtu.be/J3iYj025fcg

Hope this helps,
-Martin
 
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Another secret is to get someone else to do it for you... (Hawkvittles to the rescue!)

Seriously PineMartyn, good advice/tips/techniques.

I bought a cheapie dehydrator at walmart a couple years back for about $30 and love it. My favorite thing to make is venison jerky. I've also dehydrated corn, beans, apple slices, carrots, stew beef cubes, and chicken, though the chicken came out badly (I cut it too small, and it shredded itself apart). My daughter loves to make fruit rollups using a jar of apple sauce. They seldom last long enough to take on a trip!

My only additional tip is that when doing jerky, you'll probably use a marinade of some sort. This gets all over the screens and bakes on as it dries. If you use a very light coating of Pam cooking spray on the screens first, they clean up more easily.

I have kept dehydrated meals in the freezer for just over a year and used them with good results.
 
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Great tips. I agree. I also use my dehydrator for my regular meal leftovers. By drying last nights dinner I not only reduce waste but have an extra meal for camping.
 
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Thank you, Pinemartyn, for starting this thread. This will be the year I finally start dehydrating instead of wasting money on freeze dried meals at MEC etc. Your tips are useful and inspiring.
BTW, though I haven't done any dehydrating yet, I know that this fellow's meal ideas are highly recommended over at hammock forums. His moniker is Babelfish5: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5339C3EC3CB8226C
 
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Thanks Sturgeon. I too have heard of Babelfish5 and watched some of his videos. I haven't actually tried any of his meal ideas yet, but some of them look very worthwhile and I likely will try some this season. Good luck with your dehydrating.

- Martin
 
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Two resources I started with are
Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook
It is a good general information, many consider the "bible' of dehydrating food.

and
Linda Yaffe's Backpack Gourmet: Good Hot Grub You Can Make at Home, Dehydrate, and Pack for Quick, Easy, and Healthy Eating on the Trail.
Geared toward backpacking (or canoeing), it is full of dozens of excellent interesting recipes you probably would never think of. It sometimes appears on Kindle for free.

I've been preparing my own recipes for groups using Yaffe's book as an idea starter for years. Do a few of those and there is no limit to making your own versions.

When you look for a dehydrator, it is important to get one with a thermostat control, and a fan. Many very cheap ones have neither, and you may not get good results.

Casseroles were made for dehydrating. Consistent size of components is key, as is trying to keep fat content low (fat does not dry). I rehydrate by pouring boiling water into a double ziplock freezer bag of food, and sealing in an insulating cozy for 20 minutes. Some items take a little less, some a little more, but nothing takes more than 30 minutes. In a cozy it remains hot and good to eat. No mess, no cleanup.

I dried over 200 pounds (dry weight, only part of the rules-required 20kg/person food weight) of main meal food for a voyageur crew of 7 on the first Yukon 1000 mile race. We ate very well for the 6 days of the race (and had lots left over).

Each year I dry food for an Adirondack guides' training course of 30 people for 4 days. Easy, but it is a little time consuming.
 
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Your dehydrating videos Martin (and your missus) are just what I needed to encourage me to dig out from storage my flea market find dehydrator. Thanks for these Pinemartyn, you’ve answered all my questions and concerns. I’ve found the pre packaged grocery section handy for our trips (soups, curries, Thai …), but looking forward to taking along home cooked meals in the future.
Thanks again.
Take care.
Brad
 
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Thanks pine Martyn... plus one on babelfish5.. I love his BBQ spaghetti
When I get home I have to watch you vids PMartyn
 
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Anyone found a way to effectively dehydrate avocado? I've tried (a) sliced and covered with lemon juice and (b) blended with fruit fresh. While (b) works better, I'm still looking for something slightly better. Nothing like having a little guacamole in the bush! dd
 
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Anyone found a way to effectively dehydrate avocado? I've tried (a) sliced and covered with lemon juice and (b) blended with fruit fresh. While (b) works better, I'm still looking for something slightly better. Nothing like having a little guacamole in the bush! dd

What have your results been? I think it might be too oily, but have not tried dehydrating it. My aha for this year is the wonderful way broccoli (frozen chopped) dehydrates and then rehydrates ( in cold water about 20 min)
 
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Anyone found a way to effectively dehydrate avocado? I've tried (a) sliced and covered with lemon juice and (b) blended with fruit fresh. While (b) works better, I'm still looking for something slightly better. Nothing like having a little guacamole in the bush! dd

I have never even tried dehydrating avocado simply because it's such a fat-laden fruit. It never would have occurred to me to try it. I'm surprised to hear you had any success at all. Like, YellowCanoe, I too would like to know what the results were when you tried it.

Thanks,
- Martin
 
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The (b) approach, with a layer of wax paper on the drying rack, it probably the way to go. It was still a little waxy (not from the paper) at the end of the cycle, but crumbled easily. I re-constituted with guacamole mix and added a little olive oil for consistency and gave it to my (adult) kids to try without explanation. After tasting and giving it the thumbs up, I told them it was from dehydrated avocado. They were surprised (and these kids are all over Tex-Mex food!). dd
 
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The (b) approach, with a layer of wax paper on the drying rack, it probably the way to go. It was still a little waxy (not from the paper) at the end of the cycle, but crumbled easily. I re-constituted with guacamole mix and added a little olive oil for consistency and gave it to my (adult) kids to try without explanation. After tasting and giving it the thumbs up, I told them it was from dehydrated avocado. They were surprised (and these kids are all over Tex-Mex food!). dd

I guess the real test is saving some at room temperature in a vacuum sealed bag for a week or so and seeing if it becomes rancid. Anyway that would be my fear.
 
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It's time to start dehydrating again. I always do beer braised beef stew, stuffed pepper soup, chilli, and pasta sauce. Tonight we had leftover stuffed shells. I would like to try out stuffed shells or lasagna, and was wondering if anyone has tried dehydrating recipes that include ricotta cheese? If so anything special to it?

Cheers,
Barry
 
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I did some red cabbage, corn, bananas and apples last week. Tomorrow we got shredded carrots and more bananas and apples. Thursday is to try some baked beans.

I am wanting to prepare some meals but think that drying ingredients separate and then combining dry may be the way to go.

Going to do some chicken and venison soon too.

Do onions really make the house stink that bad?
 
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It's time to start dehydrating again. I always do beer braised beef stew, stuffed pepper soup, chilli, and pasta sauce. Tonight we had leftover stuffed shells. I would like to try out stuffed shells or lasagna, and was wondering if anyone has tried dehydrating recipes that include ricotta cheese? If so anything special to it?

Cheers,
Barry

I have dehydrated lasagnas. Works well. I suppose the amount of ricotta might make a difference though.
 
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Thanks DuctTape. I don't think my wife uses an excessive amount of ricotta. I've had Hawk Vittles and his is pretty good. Thought I could just chop slices of lasagna up into smaller pieces and dehydrate. I will give it a try next time we have it.

Barry
 
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