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Dehydrated Foods for Bicycle Camping

Grace Newhaven, Autumn 2007


Summary of this document:

advantages of dried foods | types of dehydrators | methods | storage | www resources | picture |

other food ideas at Fish


There are several good reasons to make your own dehydrated foods at home, and in particular if you are interested in bicycle camping.

  • Economy - foods can be dried when they are in season & cheap, to be consumed when (and/or where ) they are more expensive .
  • Taste - home dried fruit leathers are delicious.
  • Durability - foods last long periods without any special environment cost (eg freezing) & travel much better without spoiling & waste.
  • Compactness - dried foods usually take up only a fraction of the volume of fresh produce.
  • Lightness - dried foods are typically around 1/8 of the weight of the fresh original
  • Convenience - carrying dried foods makes you less dependent on shops in remote areas
  • Waste limitation - dried foods can be prepared easily from " lower" grades of fruit that might otherwise be wasted.
  • Control - you know just what's in the food, important if you want to avoid additives
  • Simple satisfaction - you have made it yourself

 All these advantages are multiplied in the context of bicycle travel, where weight, durability, compactness are each of vital importance. Add "economy" if you are budget conscious.

The are a few disadvantages

  • Requires some storage space
  • Requires a commitment of some kitchen time in preparation
  • Possibility of spoilage by weevils - much reduced by making "leathers" (as distinct from "pieces " ) you can also protect against weevils by using transparent containers
  • If you're over 40,  be careful of your teeth - just as you would with an apple !

There are different ways to dry food : outdoor solar units are possible in sunny environments, while electric models are supposed to operate anywhere with power, and are generally smaller and thus easier to store. As I have little experience of the electric kind, so I cannot vouch for them (except to say, that the one I tried once was much noisier than I thought it would be!) Refer to any large electrical or department store for information.

Living in Adelaide, we are in an ideal situation to preserve our own fruit & vegetables using only the power of the sun. We have long dry summers, an ideal climate for stone fruits, vines & citrus and with no fruit fly problem, so we are always able to locate large quantities of cheap fruit, sometimes from our neighbours' back yards.

We have the extra advantage of living within easy distance of Adelaide's Central Market, where " close out" prices at the end of the trading day provide opportunities for great bargains. [My own record was a dozen over-ripe mangoes for a dollar - making about ˝ kg of mango leather, equivalent retail price around A$35.00/ kg ] . In 2007, I began actively “gleaning” – asking stallholder for the sometimes perfect fruit that they throw away at the end of the day ( eg grapes that have become separated from their stalks !)

So if you live in a sunny environment, have access to cheap or free fruit, a little spare time, space to store your produce & your solar machine in the winter, and a little imagination - food drying is for you !

We have been drying for a few years now, and have found the following methods work best.

Methods

Fruits - to make "leathers" ….

wash fruit - cut out /discard any spoiled parts - some especially juicy fruits (eg peaches, nectarines) are easier if gently " blanched " or "poached" in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or stockpot. Fruit will cook very quickly, so be careful not to burn it. Do not add more than a spoon of water, or any sugar - it's not necessary, as the sweetness of the fruit is concentrated in the end product. When cool, mash the fruit, leave to cool (say, overnight ). Then spread on special " baking paper" from the supermarket [ not greaseproof or lunch wrap ] and place in your dehydrator.

You will need this paper for anything cooked and / or very watery eg you can dry tomatoes in thin slices ( i.e. about 5 slices to the small tomato ) which results in a very tasty tomato " chip" - delicious on its own , even without salad oil, which does not travel well. I like these especially as a picnic lunch on bike trips.

At the end of the first day in the sun, you may be able carefully to peel the leather or chips off the paper to turn over for next day - if not , by day #2 you can .This may be easier in the evening, rather than in the heat of the day.

On hot days in Adelaide, ( say 35 degrees C +) I can dry leathers like this in two or three days.

Larger machines have multiple trays, so you might reduce the temperature by moving the trays around at the end of the first day to avoid burning or overhardening.

The leather is “done" when you can hold it up by one end without it breaking - it will have a lovely translucent colour if you hold it up to the sun.

For storage, cut into strips or flat slabs - these are space saving.

Alternatively, simply place slices of washed fruit directly onto trays. This method is suitable for most fruits, especially bananas (slices or mashed) , apples, pears etc. These will need to be turned at the end of each day ( to prevent burning ). This results in a more conventional appearance, but is a lot of work compared to the leather method above. It is also more space intensive to store, and seems to be less resistant to weevil attack.

Vegetables

Again, wash & discard any spoiled parts - if required, gently blanch / poach vegetables - you will probably want whole pieces, so skip the mashing stage above, place cut pieces on your trays, with or without baking paper ( without provides more efficient airflow) . They should be ready in a couple of days.

Dried onion rings and chopped garlic are particularly useful for camping, saving you from wasting the second half of the onion when you only need a little anyway. I use red "spanish" onions for their superior flavour, just as I do at home, and my neighbours' organic garlic is a welcome companion on our trips.

You can make mashed potato this way, and I once made a dried " salad" out of a blended mixture of tomatoes, parsley, onions, celery etc. (It was OK, but these days I just use the chips as above !). The point is, you should experiment - the risk of failure is very small compared to the cost.

Meats

Early explorers in Australia relied heavily on dried meats, even turning a whole horse or camel into jerky in only a couple of days, spread on thornbush.

We've found most meats, and meat based dishes, can be dried quite easily. The exception is that jerkys do not need to be cooked before you put them out to dry. We used to make kangaroo jerky, which was tasty, but very hard. I gave up eating it after breaking one of my Baby Boomer teeth (though lately, I tried it again in the bottom of a cup of soup - by the time I got to the end of the soup, it was OK ! ). We have also made a very good Moroccan "couscous" a spicy stew of vegetables, chick peas and mutton.

Most recently, I turned several free range chicken carcasses into half a kilo of tiny but delicious chicken "flakes" which we can add to stews "on the road". Essentially anything you make or eat in the kitchen can be made into a durable dried form - good for leftovers !

While you need to be a little more careful with meats ( I suggest perfecting your fruit technique first) you will find that you need to avoid greasy or fatty meats especially. I would avoid them anyway.

Storage

you can protect against weevils by first freezing the product, then storing in transparent containers eg plastic or glass bottles.

The best initial storage containers are flat, square plastic, such as some meats are sold in supermarkets. These are space efficient both within & without. But any secure snap top or wide mouthed screw top container is good. Containers must be airtight to prevent moths attacking the stored produce. Always label any product with date and type - it's easy to forget sometimes what you have - masking tape is useful, better than writing on the container. I keep a stock of small, cut paper squares, and write product & date then slip the square on top of the contents.

A few weeks later, (when no mould has appeared, thus indicating that the moisture content has stabilised) I now transfer the flat strips into snap-lock plastic bags, for increased compactness. Note however, that this is not recommended for long term storage as it’s prone to weevil attack – they can eat through the bags quite quickly, especially if left in a dark place.

Is there any health hazard ? We have never suffered any problem in more than five years now, consuming a variety of foods prepared in this way.

WWW resources

 Food Dehydrator Store

http://www.food-dehydrator-store.com

Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook http://www.drystore.com/recipes.shtml.htm

an inexpensive solar food dryer

http://metalab.unc.edu/pub/academic/environment/alternative-energy/energy-resources/homepower-magazine/archives/29/29p62.txt

a nearly free solar dehydrator

http://www.jrwhipple.com/sr/soldehydrate.html

solar dehydrator

http://www.ix.net.au/~jurasol/

 Drying Foods Out-of-Doors

http://southernfood.miningco.com/home/food/southernfood/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://hammock.ifas.ufl.edu/txt/fairs/30677

Tip For Drying Fruits Without A Dehydrator http://www.angelfire.com/oh/adoptalabrador/berries2.html

wood fired machine for large quantity food dehydration

http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/hooker41.html

Excalibur Dehydrators

http://www.2-life.com/excalho.htm

electric dehydrators

http://www.fiddleback.net/health/dehy.htm

Home Cooking: Using a Dehydrator

http://www.foghorn.com/camp_comp/nine.html#dehydrator

What to look for in selecting a dehydrator

http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/hesguide/foodnut/gh1562.htm

Food Safety Of Jerky

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/jerky.htm

Drying Fruits and Vegetables

http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/fdns/FDNS-E-43-10.pdf.

Solar cooking http://solarcooking.org/funnel.htm

Biltong -- Dried meat South African style

http://www.rucus.ru.ac.za/~mike/biltong.html

 Two useful books on the subject are :

"The Well Fed Backpacker" June Fleming 1986. Vintage Books ISBN 0-394-73804-7

" The Lightweight Gourmet - Drying & Cooking Food for the Outdoor Life" Alan Kesselheim 1994 Ragged Mountain Press. ISBN 0-07-034248-2

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