Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dehrydrating Lessons.

My poorly written and rambling post inspired me to write a better one! 

I did A LOT of dehydrating of foods when I was at me mum's home.  I dehydrated Ropa Vieja, Corn and Squash Relish, Jerky, Fruit Leather, Pork and Black Beans, Great White Northern Beans and anything else I had to throw in the pot and lots more (so much I can't even remember everything I made!).  There are a few conclusions I've come to:

#1.  I wouldn't dehydrate food (with the exception of jerky and fruits) if I didn't backpack.  It's not that don't re-hydrate well because a majority of them do (especially the Ropa Vieja, which is like Mexican shredded beef).  It's just that it's really not very practical to cook a meal, dehydrate it and then re-hydrate it for a boxed lunch in the office.  Just bring in some Tupperware with leftovers.  If you are worried about the world ending or a backpacker, the by all means dehydrate 'til your hearts content! 

Cooking at my mum's.  I loved having a window right there where you could watch the feathered friends!
#2.  Dehydrated fruit can be more delicious than fresh fruit.  Don't get me wrong - I love biting into a wonderfully ripened peach and have the juices drip down my face and hands.  Dehydrating fruit intensifies the flavors making it a great snack for road trips or at the office.  If you have some pears that are starting to get too soft, then slice up those bad boys; sprinkle on some sugar and cinnamon, if you wish; and dehydrate away.  It saves your fruit and you aren't losing any of the wonderful sugars that make fruit a better option than a candy bar.

#3.  Spread your food thinner than you think you need to while it is dehydrating.  We were doing a pretty good job of this at first but then I started to get antsy and wanted to dehydrate more at once so I'd make it thicker.  Not a lot thicker but a little bit.  A little bit though equals over 15 hours of dehydrating action as opposed to 8 hours of dehydrating action. If you make it thinner, then the air can circulate around each kernel of corn or each bean easier and dry it out quicker.

Ropa Vieja ready to be dried.
#4.  If you are going to be doing things such as fruit leathers or soups (we did a lot of soups), then you should by the fruit leather sheets.   We did not do this.  Instead we traced the tray on to parchment paper and cut out the parchment paper.  The big difference though is that we had to do this probably 50 times, we threw a lot of paper away and it's more expensive (the sheets are less than $10!).  However, they are impossible to find in small town Oklahoma and I didn't think about ordering them from the fancy interwebs until right before I left.

#5.  Beef dehydrates well.  I added chicken to lots of things because we had lots of chicken (left overs from Thanksgiving and left overs from making chicken stock).  However, beef dehydrated better.  Well no it's not even that, but it re-hydrates better.  It maintains it's flavor better.

#6.  Spray each tray with Pam before adding the food.  If you do not, then it will stick and be a bitch to scrape off.  It'll look less appetizing and you will be more apt to curse at the food as you are trying to pry it away from the parchment paper that just wont let go. 

#7.  Have a way to store your booty.  At first, we stored things in just Ziplock baggies and stuck them in the freezer.  (I read somewhere that dehydrated meat is good for two weeks at room temp or pretty much unlimited in a freezer.  Dehydrated vegetarian food is good for two years at room temp.)  However, I started having nightmares of giant freezer burned dried corn chasing me (not really but I did start to worry).  So we went to the store and decided to try to Ziplock vacuum hand pump suck-the-air-out-bags since they were $10 for all the supplies (about 24 bags and the pump) as opposed to $150+ for a food saver and the special bags.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.  My mum is supposed to be borrowing a food saver from a friend at work to prevent the freezer burn.

#8.  Make sure everything is completely dry.  Wetness is what makes things rot.  If it isn't completely dry, then let it keep going longer.  By the end of the two week cooking/dehydrating marathon, I felt very comfortable as to when it was dry, but earlier on I was afraid of it getting too dry and turning to dust.  I feared this because I read about it on other sites.  Don't be afraid of that - it takes a long time before it is too dry.  Be more afraid of it being damp.

#9.  Make everything about the size of a bean.  Not a giant bean like a lima bean or a tiny bean like a lentil but a normal bean - like a black bean.  If it's not all the same size then some stuff will turn to dust while other stuff is still damp.  (Like in the picture above, I ended up taking out the slices of carrots because they took way too long to get anywhere near dry.)  If everything is uniformly sized but rather large, it will take forever to dry out or may not dry out in the center at all.  I read to keep everything about a quarter of an inch by a quarter of an inch but it's easier for me to think about the size of a black bean.

Corn Squash Mexican Relish.  All the same size; although, it could have been a bit smaller.
#10.  I don't like taking pictures of food with my new camera.  (I know this isn't a dehydrating lesson but it's a lesson I learned while cooking.)  I have to wash my hands too often, pause my cooking groove and then I couldn't get the picture of inside the pot without often moving it to the floor and trying to angle it so it didn't look like it was on the floor.  Back in the day, I photographed every step of the way, but I also had a different camera that made it a bit easier. 

That's the big stuff.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment - I'm feeling like an expert currently.  My mum is taking over my duties as queen dehyrdrator while we are in the park so she'll probably have some stuff to add as well.  (We do have a mini-kitchen this season - but no cooking utensils!  We didn't know we were getting it so we didn't prepare!)

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