View Full Version : Drying Foods: meats, fruits and vegies

07-22-2010, 05:38 PM
Drying food was probably the first way man was able to preserve a meal. It is the most simple of all preservation processes. Drying food does not require a dehydrator. A mechanical device can help, but is not necessary and often interferes with the peocess. This is an all day process for meats and several days for friuts and veggies. Allow yourself plenty of time. With meats you may wish to prepare the racks and gather wood the day before.

Meat: All meats can not be dried. Pork is not suitable. Rabbit is not suitable. Any meat with layered fat is less suitable than meat with marbled fat. As a guide, it the cooked fat of the species forms a hard crust when it dries it can be used. By hard crust I mean that brittle layer one sees on the cooled broth of a beef roast. A soft grainy layer of fat, like pork makes, will not be as good. As a rule one can dry beef, goat, elk, deer, moose, caribou. Most white-fish can also be dried.

Preparing the meat: Slice the meat in layers along the grain. The slices should be less than 1/4" thick and about the size of a playing card or slightly larger. No real rules here. That is just what works for me. I usually need to finish the drying during one visitation day between 9am and 5pm and this size will usually dry in that time.

Now one needs a drying rack. The rack may be made from wire or wood. The indians sometimes used natural vegitation, such as bushes. The pioneers made their racks from available branches. As long as the rack is not plastic it will be usable.

The rack must be suspended 2-3 feet above the ground. It can be elivated in any way available. It just needs to be high enough so one can build a low fire under it and have the meat far enough away from the fire that it does not actually cook. When doing this as a demo at historic sites I use forked branches about 2 feet long and make a grid of other branches above this framework.

Build a low fire under the rack. By low I mean just barely going. If you have any punkwood that will create good smoke now is the time to use it. Hickory bark or chips work well and you need to sprinkle water on them to get smoke. You do not want to cook the meat, you just want to keep it smoky. The smoke keeps the flies away too.

If you have salt available sprinkle sopme generously on the meat. You may wish to use pepper, garlic or other spices. Go ahead, it's your party. Jerked meat gets boring after a few weeks as a steady diet. I would not use a marinade or sauce, that is just more moisture to remove from the tissues and adds time to the process.

Hang the slabs of meat from the rack. They can be draped over the grid or just laid flat. Keep the smoke going but the flames low. You are not cooking the meat you are drying it.

When the meat is black and looks brittle turn it over. That should take about half the day. Do not be constatly turning it. Wait half the day, do one flip and dry for the rest of the day. One good hot day in the smoke will usually do the job. The Native Americans often did not even use a fire, they just put the meat on racks, or hung it on bushes in the sun.

Toward night the slabs of meat should be brittle and break when you bend them. They should be much dryer than store bought jerky and look a lot less apitizing. They should have lost at least 2/3 of their weight. Three pounds of beef will give you 1 pound of jerk.

For storage, place the dried meat in a CLOTH BAG! It needs air, do not use plastic or zip locks. Shelf time I can not tell you, it never lasted long enough to spoil around my crew. I did use it on the AT and it lasted 2 months of intense heat and humidity of the deep south. I have made big batches of it and placed it in the fridge and taken out what I needed as I needed it for a whole summer. You can refregerate it and then take it out again without hurting the process.

This is good stuff. It is not like the "toy jerky" you buy at the store. A piece of this stuff is a meal. You can eat is as is or use it for cooking any way you would use any other meat. I espically enjoy jerky and Oddles of Noodles. On the historic trail I often do jerky and rice. I often take only jerky and hard tack as trail food for a whole weekend. My late wife always said this was the closest I ever got to self abuse!

Fish: Do them just like meat except when you prepare them make a single slice down the spine, splitting the body in half but leave it connected at the tail. You can hang the fish over the rack by the tail. They will usually not get brittle but will feel like flexable plastic.

One caution with dried fish. Bears love it. They can smell it a mile away and will track you down and kill you to get it. I dumped leftover fish and rice outside camp one night and caused a bear riot. I also earned the trail-name "Bearbait", but I suspected that was due to the smoked bacon I was carrying.

That is it. Yes it is that simple. You choose lean meat with marbled fat and dry it in the sun over a smoky fire. Put it in a cloth bag and keep it dry.

Fruits: Weather must be right. Choose a span that will have several hot sunny days. Make a rack from chicken wire or scren such as window screen. My grandmother used several clean sheets of roofing metal elivated on sawhorses.

Slice the fruit thin, 1/8"-3/16" and lay them in a single layer on the rack. Leave in the hot sun for the whole day. Cover at night and allow to dry for the next day. Again, this dried fruit will not be like that flexably toy food from the mylar bag at the grocery. The fruit will dry until brittle. You must stop the process at the poit you prefer. The dryer it is the longer it will last. It will go to the texture of "banana chips" and last indefinately. Reconstituted it will be dark in color, but have all the flavor and vitimins of the origional fruit.

Caution: If you have husbands or small children around beatings will be necessary for the fruit to survive for the entire drying period. Peaches, pears, apples, apricots, grapes, cherries are my favorites.

Yep, that's all there is. It's not complicated. Keep the birds and bugs away and you will have dried fruit.

Veggies: Almost all beans and peas can be left in the hulls until they are dry. Shell them and allow them to dry as much as possible and put them in a dry place. Corn can be dried in the husk, shelled and stored dry. Squash and pumpkins can be dried on strings or on racks.

Tomatoes can be sliced and dried in the sun just like fruit. You pay big money for sun dried tomatoes at the store.

String beans get their name from the way they were preserved, not the string in the bean. You can pick the beans and run a needle and thread through the hull. Stack as many beans on the string as it takes to make a meal for your family. Hang the string from the rafters or in the sun until the hull withers and dries to the consistancy of leather. There are called "leatherjackets". They will last for the entire winter hanging from the rafters of the cabin. To make a meal cook them over a low heat all day with a chunk of bacon and a big onion and Cornbread on the side.

Onions, garlic and peppers can all be strung and dried like the leatherjackets.

Almost all the traditional foods of the Native American and European cultures can be dried without the need for any special process or additives. Corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, beans, peas, spices. All will work and have worked for thousands of years. Drying, salting, smking and pickling were all they had before the canning process.

Do niot try to keep dried foods in plastic or glass. Cloth sacks are best, paper also works.

You can make you drying screens from plastic screen if metal worries you. You can make them from wood. On the farm we used galvinazed roofing metal and my G-G-parents lived to be over 100, G-parents to about the, my Dad died at 83 and my mom is going strong at 86. They lived on this stuff their whole lives. Only danger I feel I was ever in from dried food was getting my butt busted for stealing peaches and apples off the drying sheets!

Keep in mind that dried corn has 2400 calories per pound. You will need about 2200 to sustain life. You will need 365+- pounds per person per year. Deduct what other calories you get from other sources.

07-22-2010, 05:49 PM
Great post. Rep on the way.

07-22-2010, 08:51 PM
Awesome post KY, those string beans and cornbread sure sounds good.

07-22-2010, 08:51 PM
I shot you some rep as well. It's a great post.

I would like to make one distinction, however. You aren't drying the meat. You are smoking it. There is a very subtle difference. The smoke is both an antimicrobial and an antioxidant. What you are describing is a cold smoke process. You do, of course, remove moisture from the meat in the process.

The fat in the meat doesn't spoil. It goes rancid. While there are different kinds of rancid, it's just a decomposition of the chemical components of fat. I don't think any of them will kill you if you can get it past your nose.

Just drying is done much the same way but without the fire or smoke. You let the sun do the work. Dad did a lot of drying when he lived on the farm. They placed fruits on the roof and covered them with window screens to keep the flies off. As you said, the smaller you make it or the more surface area exposed the quicker stuff will dry.

Vere nice job!!!!!

07-22-2010, 11:44 PM
The meat process is actually drying with smoke added. The smoke is optional. I use it to keep flies away and adds flavor.

The avoidance of pork and fatty meat avoids the problem of far going rancid. I have never had a batch spoil.

07-23-2010, 07:31 AM
I've never dried meat using a natural setting. I've done it with dehydrators and ovens but not outside. So I have some questions for you.

1. When I dry or jerky I'm using a temp of around 115F +or-. That takes the best part of day to dry. Six hours or so. Without the use of smoke, what kind of daytime temps are we talking about? I would have thought natural drying would have been a several day process. Four or five depending on heat, humidity and breeze. Dehydration of the meat surface occurs pretty quickly but the moisture embedded in the meat takes longer to extract.

2. Do you brine, dip or salt the meat prior to drying?

07-23-2010, 10:55 AM
Even more rep your way. Great Post! Simple instructions, easy to remember, and potentially life-saving info all in one post. I'll be trying this soon. Thanks!

07-23-2010, 02:56 PM
Great post, Thanks!
A quick question to anyone, I'm confused about storing dehydrated food now. Until now I've been storing my dehydtrated veggies in canning jars. I s this OK?or should I take them out and store in paper bags.

07-23-2010, 03:42 PM
I'm a newb to the dehydrating scene and am usin canning jars. I like the way they look. As far as making jerky - storage has never been an issue.:innocent:

07-23-2010, 04:27 PM
No problem at all, Winnie. If you use a commercial dehydrator you are removing enough moisture you won't have to worry about it. I have some herbs in zip lock bags and in plastic containers that have been there for months. If I did a natural drying on meat or fish then I wouldn't want to seal it up tight because of the fat and oil content. However, I've made jerky in the oven that was fine after six months having been stored in a zip lock bag.

07-23-2010, 04:46 PM
Don't believe a word he says Winnie.

Jerky lasting six months ---- hah! I've only been able to make it last one week - two tops.:innocent:

07-23-2010, 05:00 PM
Yeah right, like that's going to happen..... the last batch of jerky I made didn't last. 2lb's best skirt steak(flank?) gone in under 2weeks! And I was the only one eating it! Winnie jnr had a problem with it, said it wasn't right eating a savoury penny chew.

I'll stick to canning jars, then.

07-23-2010, 11:41 PM
It was all in the name of science.

07-24-2010, 12:55 AM
i used to put my stuff in ziplocs, but being dry they sometimes poke holes in the bag. So, I switched to mason jars. I would think if you stored them in anything that wasn't at least semi-airtight it would allow moisture to re-hydrate the dried goods on a humid day, but, my family on my dad's side pretty much did it the way KY said, so it must work fairly well. In fact that's pretty much the way my neighbors still do it.