Adventures in Dehydrating
In the past I’ve mentioned the fact that I would be home-preparing most of our meals for our summer of thru hiking and, for the past two weeks, my food dehydrator has been running nonstop! I’ve dehydrated more than 8 pounds of mixed frozen vegetables, countless cups of rice, black-eyed peas, and even my own mushrooms and eggplants for curry. I’ve still got about 7 more days of dehydrating ahead of me, but I wanted to share what I was doing and explain the process for those looking to make their own meals.
The first step in all of this is purchasing a GOOD dehydrator. Yes, you could do this with a cheapie model, but I highly recommend getting a model with a fan. I am a HUGE fan of my Excalibur dehydrator and purchased a 5-tray unit about a year ago. It dries consistently and is kind of a ‘set it and forget it’ type unit. Dehydrators without fans do require a bit more babysitting to move around the trays. For two people, a 5-tray unit does just fine.
The main reason I was making all our own food is not only because I enjoy cooking, but when you prepare you own meals ahead of time you can control the quantity AND the quality of the ingredients you use. While eating the same four or five flavors of Lipton Rice Sides all summer can be appealing to some, making your own flavors of rice can allow for much more creative uses of flavors. We have alternated between brown rice and Jasmine rice, flavoring it with everything from sweet vanilla-flavored almond milk to cajun seasoning and onion soup base. Change up the veggies and fruits you put with each serving of rice and you get a lot more variety! Our meals not only will have a little more variety, repeating the same meal only 7 times or less through the entire summer, they will also be a little more rounded out nutritionally. I’ve dehydrated so much fruit and so many vegetables that every single meal will contain something nutritious and colorful – whereas on my 2012 thru hike the only color I was seeing was the generic beige of the rice sides and the only pops of color were the sprinkles on my Poptarts!
My food dehydrator has definitely allowed me to get creative in the preparation process for our foods as well. In discovering I’d need more than 10 cups of bacon bits for various recipes, I set to work pricing a few options for the meals. When I discovered how expensive it would be to buy them, and since shelf-stable bacon wasn’t really sounding appealing I made my own with a bag of TVP, ham base, and a little liquid smoke. They dried beautifully and taste just like the brand name stuff – but they only cost me 4.00 for more than 10 cups whereas in the store it would have easily been double.
While doing all our own food has both positive and negative sides, deciding to push forward and make our own meals for this summer has been a mostly positive experience. If you’re a hiker who enjoys cooking and getting creative in the kitchen, I highly recommend spending a little extra on a good dehydrator and making some of your own meals for a night out on the trail!
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