|VOC Journal Article|
|The following text is transcribed from VOC Journal 48. In the spirit of preserving the original author's work, please do not edit it except to correct copy mistakes.|
by Scott Nelson and Sandra Nicol
If you want to carry light-weight foods when backpacking there are several options: freeze-dried meals, grocery store packaged meals (eg. macaroni and cheese), and home-assembled meals. The first two are easy and usually require little or no preparation at home or in camp. However, they have disadvantages. Freeze-dried foods tend to be expensive, and the portions are often too small. Quick grocery store meals tend to be cheaper, but are usually not as nutritious as the other options. Home-assembled meals take more preparation time at home, but have huge advantages compared to the other two. We have found that the big advantage of putting meals together ourselves is that we have better control of the portions size, taste, and nutritional value of the food we eat in the backcountry. We have also been able to increase the variety of our meals. Imagine going for a four day trip without eating any pasta... We have been dehydrating our own fruits, vegetables, and meats for backcountry meals for several years now, and have some tips on what dehydrates and rehydrates well, and how to make your dried foods tastier. We have a dehydrator, but you can use an oven set on warm and propped open. If you use an oven spread your foods on racks over cookie sheets.
Of course, fruits are best dehydrated when they are ripe, but overripe fruits usually turn out fine as well. Soft apples, strawberries, peaches etc. can be saved by dehydrating them before they rot. Save money by buying the discounted, overripe fruit from the store and dehydrating it immediately. Most fruits dry in 6-8 hours, depending on how thick they are cut. Fruit will have a dry, leathery texture when done, and can be stored in closed containers at room temperature for many months. Dried fruits can be eaten as snacks or reconstituted and incorporated into larger dishes. Apples: best to dip in diluted lemon juice before dehydrating. This prevents them from going brown. Cut slices about 5mm thick and leave the peel on. Poke holes with a knife in any large patches of peel to help the flesh underneath dry. Bananas can go straight in, but lemon juice adds some flavour. They will end up chewy, unlike store bought banana chips. Cut slices about 5-7mm thick. Blueberries aren’t worth dehydrating as they shrivel up into little hard blue spheres. Mango: peel and cut slices 7-10mm thick. Bell Peppers: dry out well and are good for soups, stews, etc. Peaches: peel and cut slices 5-7mm thick. Nectarines: and Apricots same as peaches, but no need to peel Strawberries: cut slices 4-7mm thick, no treatment Tomatoes: cut slices about 6-9mm thick. You can also dehydrate tomato paste or tomato sauce (see fruit leather). Zucchini: cut slices 7mm thick. Zucchini rehydrates nicely in soups, stews and curries.
You can make fruit leather by running fruit through a blender and dehydrating the resulting liquid. This is a lot of work, but the leather is delicious. Berries with lots of seeds are better as leather than simply dried (you can also strain the seeds out). To make expensive fruits like berries go farther, add a couple of apples to the mix when it is being blended; the apples increase the volume without much impact on flavour. The fruit leather tray that comes with the dehydrator needs to be covered with plastic wrap or something else that is non-stick to be effective. Peel the plastic wrap off the back of the leather once it’s mostly dry. Tomato based pasta sauce can be dehydrated in the same manner as for fruit leather.
Dried vegetables are excellent ingredients for camping food where weight and bulk is important. The vegetables suggested here all rehydrate quickly in boiling water with good flavour and texture. Most take 6-8 hours to dry. Broccoli needs to be steamed before drying. Cut into small florets. Carrots need to be sliced then steam blanched for a minute or two. Without the steaming, they are slow to rehydrate. Corn can be dried from a frozen pack. It should be steamed for a minute or two like carrots to aid in rehydration.Onions can just be sliced up raw, but are very slow to dry (expect 15- 20hours). As slow as they are to dry, they reconstitute well. Peas can be dehydrated from bags of frozen peas. Like carrots, they are best if steamed for a few minutes first. Potatoes need to be cooked (boiled) before dehydrating. We usually peel them as the skins are tough, with the exception of new potatoes. Cut them about 7mm thick once they are cooked all the way through, but not yet soft. If they are not cooked well enough, the center will turn black in the dehydrator. Sweet potatoes and yams can be prepared in the same way, but need to be peeled. Spinach can be dehydrated from fresh bunches or frozen. If fresh they can be dehydrated as they are or blanched to wilting first. The dried spinach will crush to flakes when packed, but tastes great as an addition to grains or soups.
Beef Jerky is the best dehydrated meat product we’ve been able to make. Start with any lean steak; it doesn’t matter how tough it is, as long as it’s lean (fat does not dehydrate away, since it is not water based, and if there is too much it can go rancid and spoil your jerky). It’s going to end up tough no matter what you do. Cut it fairly thin and marinate it in you’re favourite sauce overnight in the fridge. Dehydrate it on the highest temperature to cook the meat as it dries. Beef Jerky is usually quite quick to dry - 4-5 hours perhaps. Eat it as a snack because it won’t reconstitute quickly enough for soups, and it’s too damn good. Salmon Jerky, is possible too, but the end product tastes fishy. It is good added to soups for protein. Tofu will dehydrate, but it doesn’t rehydrate. Don’t go there. Ground Beef can also be dehydrated for later use in stews and sauces. Cook it first and then drain the fat away before dehydrating. Unlike beef jerky, it reconstitutes well. Keep refrigerated until use, lasts at least 6 months in the fridge if enough fat is removed first."
Advice on food for long trips? (Topic on VOC message board)
Food for long backpacking trips (Topic on VOC message board)
Expedition Food List (John Baldwin's expert opinion)