Let’s see, what comes in this bucket designed to be a 30-day emergency food supply? We’ve got cream-based soups, pancake mix, breakfast cereals, milk powder, pasta and rice entrees, chili … in other words, lots of grains with enough cheap protein sources to keep it respectable. Bare, sorry little scraps is all you get of fruits and vegetables.
Sure, you can buy them freeze dried. Some of those are pretty good — I’m still working on big cans of Auguson Farms vegetable stew blend and spinach flakes and like them both. Freeze dried tends to be expensive though. This is especially true when you move out of the cheap veggies (root crops like carrots and onions) and into the fruits.
I like my fruits and veggies. A lot. I like them out of season, when the grocery offerings are not good but are expensive. I would like them if the stuff hit the fan, too. Maybe you’re not such a fan as I (few people are), but how are you going to feel about all those pancakes, cereals, pastas with red sauce and TVP ‘beef’, and cheesy rice dishes without anything to dress them up? And how’s your colon going to feel about all that ‘all the refined grains, ever’ diet? And how will your kids feel about the lack of snack food?
My solution was to get a good quality dehydrator (an Excalibur). (OK, Salty bought it because I’m a terrible shopper and he is an excellent selector, but why quibble?) It pairs beautifully with my perennial plantings (things like berries, apples, peaches) and garden excesses. It also lets you buy in bulk in season when stuff is both cheap and fresh. This morning I made some zucchini chips with squash that came 3 for $1; right now I’m drying down the first of a bunch of fresh good apples that were about $0.50/lb.
After the up-front cost of the dehydrator (and mine has lasted five years of hard use so far) and a vacuum sealer, it’s the cheapest form of long-term storage I know.
It is much faster and easier than canning, with the results being more compact and lighter (thus easier to store). Some things work better dehydrated, some canned; but I dehydrate a lot more because it doesn’t take the big time blocks in the kitchen. Optimal shelf life is five years or less, based on some decrease in tastiness I’m starting to find in my oldest attempts, which are just over five years. It’s best to keep the jars out of direct light and temperature extremes to slow degradation. I don’t know of any time point where dehydrated food would become unsafe, just less tasty.
How does it work?
Hang on here, this is kind of like brain surgery. You slice the food (if it starts out thicker than about 1/4 inch), lay it out on the trays, sprinkle on some seasonings if you’re in the mood, and run the dehydrator. I know, pretty complex stuff.
You can blend fruit into a slurry and pour it onto waxed paper and make fruit leather if you like (good approach for raspberries).
Others report you can also do things like beat up eggs and dehydrate them; I haven’t gotten that enthused yet. You can also make jerky, but being mostly vegetarian, I haven’t tried that either. I do really like dehydrated melon seeds.
Once they stuff is dry (I often run it overnight), I put it in canning jars, toss in a couple of oxygen absorber packets, put on a canning lid, and suck the air out (with the vacuum sealer). Label and done.
Tips and tricks
Admission must be made: This method isn’t actually tricky. Still, experience has taught a few things.
Things that dry well: Apples, peaches, zucchini, tomatoes, melon seeds, citrus fruits, raspberry leather, corn, strawberries, hot peppers, bananas, herbs (except mint, which seems to lose its flavor), carrots, celery.
Things with issues: Whole raspberries (tasteless), onions (stink up the joint and take forever; plus very cheap to buy dried onion flakes), garlic (don’t want to dry completely; must be the oils), greens (lots of dryer time for small yield, but if your goal is to hide veggies in sauces and things it’s a win), sweet peppers (dry great but I find the taste disappointing), eggplant (tasteless), blueberries (very good if you squash them to split the skins first, take Way too long if they’re not split); also lose flavor if you dry them all the way to crispy.
*I dry most things to crispy, for longer shelf life. Bananas never get there though, as I don’t sugar mine as the commercial people do. Blueberries lose flavor if you dry them all the way to crispy, so I just eat them in the first year or two. Wonderful in hot cereals, flavoring for teas, reconstituted in a little hot water to top pancakes, etc.
*Dried to crispy, zucchini and tomatoes make lovely chips. I eat them all winter with Greek yogurt for a dip; it’s like eating chips but with nutrition. Sprinkling them with cinnamon, chili and garlic powder, or popcorn seasoning flavor of your choice before drying is a winner. They’re well received at potlucks when paired with dips such as guac or hummus. I don’t find their flavor as good when reconstituted in soups.
*Peaches are tasty as a snack when dried but disappointing when I rehydrated and tried to cook with them.
*The dehydrator is nice for freshening stale crackers, and a quick burst of it will re-crisp veggie chips that have absorbed water from the air and lost their crunch. It also works to dry out things one wants really dry that can take mild heat (gun parts, for example).
*Your spouse isn’t into prepping? Why, what prepping? This is getting some tasty snacks for cheaper and healthier than you could buy them by a long shot; or even getting some nice items that aren’t available in stores (zucchini and tomato chips).