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

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    Senior Member PineMartyn's Avatar
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    Default Food dehydrating: The secret to packing light, small, & better in the bush.

    Note to Moderators: I wasn't sure if this should have been posted to this sub-forum or to the how-to videos forum instead. Please move it if that would be a better place for this.

    Food dehydrating: The secret to packing light, small, & eating better meals 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 chilis 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:


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

    Hope this helps,
    -Martin
    Last edited by PineMartyn; 01-26-2013 at 11:58 AM. Reason: Added note to moderators.
    No one has ever been heard to say on a deathbed, "I wish I'd put in more time at the office."


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    Good info thanks for posting it!
    I Wonder Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink what ever comes out?"

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    cold leftovers Psalm25's Avatar
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    Awesome post Martin! Just an FYI for anyone buying a dehydrator brand new. First one I picked up worked great for about 2 months then the heater went in it (I was using it a lot, almost every day). When I took it back to the store it was rather painful trying to get them to replace it. Soon after I picked up a second one from Walmart and about 5 months later the heater went in it and I couldn't find my receipt. I took it back thinking it was too long after I purchased it and without a receipt they would say too bad, but they exchanged it without question. So if your going to buy one and use it on a regular basis I would go to Walmart and buy it brand new. They can also be made with ease and little cost, a lightbulb being the heat source and a large computer fan in a storage bin with a thermometer.
    "If you're seeking to survive in the wilderness then good gear will get you to the last 10%. Training and practice are needed for the 90%."

    "If you can see smoke comin from your neighbor's chimney, your too close to your neighbor and its time to move on" - My Grandfather

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    Senior Member BENESSE's Avatar
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    Thanks SO much, Martyn and Mrs. Martyn!!!
    Always thought dehydrating food yourself was a big production so never tried it. Now you've made it simple and I like the fact that you can do runny stuff like the sauce and I like the idea of not having preservatives in it like the store bought meals do.
    I'll also look for your brand of dehydrator. Helps to know what to pick.)
    A couple questions:
    How long will the sauce, for example, last in the zip lock unrefrigerated?
    What about seafood, like shrimp? (I sometimes buy dehydrated shrimp in the China Town and that's not refrigerated)

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    Senior Member PineMartyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Psalm25 View Post
    Awesome post Martin! Just an FYI for anyone buying a dehydrator brand new. [...] So if your going to buy one and use it on a regular basis I would go to Walmart and buy it brand new.
    You're point's well-taken Psalm25. While it's true that a dehydrator is a pretty simple bit of technology (a heating element, a fan, a switch), it can still break down. Ours has lasted well over a decade now and been used quite hard, but they're not cheap, so if you're going to buy one new, I'd also recommend getting one from a store such as Walmart or one of the big box stores such as Costco or Sam's Club, etc, which have no-fuss return and exchange policies if you happen to get a lemon.


    Quote Originally Posted by Benesse
    Thanks SO much, Martyn and Mrs. Martyn!!!
    Always thought dehydrating food yourself was a big production so never tried it. Now you've made it simple and I like the fact that you can do runny stuff like the sauce and I like the idea of not having preservatives in it like the store bought meals do.
    I'll also look for your brand of dehydrator. Helps to know what to pick.)
    A couple questions:
    How long will the sauce, for example, last in the zip lock unrefrigerated?
    What about seafood, like shrimp? (I sometimes buy dehydrated shrimp in the China Town and that's not refrigerated)
    You're welcome Benesse. I'm glad you found the info and videos helpful.
    To answer your questions:
    - Something like a cooked spaghetti sauce or chili will, once it's been dehydrated, last for many months unrefrigerated. It might last longer, but I've never actually tasted one that had been left unrefrigerated longer than just 3-4 months, since our ordinary practice is to put our dehydrated foods in the freezer. It's important to remember to package your dehydrated foods in either vacuum-sealed bags or Zip-Lock bags where most of the air has been squeezed out. If you just put them in an ordinary package or jar, even if it's air-tight, the moisture trapped in the package will, eventually be absorbed by the food and will lead to spoiling if there's enough moisture in there. Also, remember that if a food is left unrefrigerated and it contains significant fat content, that fat will eventually go rancid. Eating rancid fats won't kill you, but it will make the meal much less palatable.

    - With respect to shrimp, cooked shrimp (never raw) can be dehydrated. I know people who have tried it, but it doesn't rehydrate very well. It doesn't come back all plump and juicy. It tends to be tough and stringy. For that reason I haven't tried it and so can't recommend it, but I know people who think that it's worth doing. The commercially-produced dried shrimp you're talking about is probably freeze-dried. That, I think, produces a better result when rehydrated, so you might just want to use that in your dehydrated meals.
    In general, meats have to be ground up to rehydrate well. Chicken, for instance, can be dehydrated nicely, provided you use canned ground chicken. If you try to dehydrate cooked bits of unground chicken, it will be stringy and tough when rehydrated.

    Hope this helps,
    - Martin
    No one has ever been heard to say on a deathbed, "I wish I'd put in more time at the office."

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