Wednesday, April 22, 2015

(Mis)adventures in food dehydration

Few things are more tortuous to a ravenous backpacker than the smell of garlic and a fresh steak frying in olive oil when you’re sitting in front of cold pasta without sauce after a 10-day hike. I know this because that was what a friend and I faced half a lifetime ago on the North Boundary Trail in the Rockies. We subsisted on energy bars and pasta for the entire ten days, using soup powder for sauce until we ran out on the last day. That’s when we had only bland noodles to eat, and they were cold because they fell into the dirt when we drained them. It was then and there, among the tantalizing garlic aroma from somebody who’d just started their hike from the opposite, that I decided to eat better when out camping. And carrying a 10-day supply of spaghetti is no fun.
Fast-forward a decade and a half:

No, it’s not out of control slime mould, it’s – yogurt! Behold my terribly unsuccessful attempt at drying it. Well, it dried alright and clung to the baking sheet with a vengeance (you’re supposed to dry it on parchment paper, but that’s not exactly easy to come by around here).

The problem was it wouldn’t rehydrate properly – stubborn lumps remained and the whole thing tasted like water with yogurt flavor. I’m not so desperately keen on spooning yogurt while kayaking this summer that I want to give it another try and stuck to my time-honoured favourites for stocking up the camping food supplies. Tomato sauce dries to the consistency of fruit leather and keeps for years if stored in a cool, dry place:

I never bother to cook up actual tomato sauce before drying it, but simply spice up tomato paste, spread it thinly on a baking sheet and it’s done a few hours later. Don’t look for actual recipes and detailed how-to instructions on here, these are merely a few ideas of dehydrating food (you don’t need a dehydrator – experiment with drying in your oven at the lowest setting or on top of a wood stove; it’s really not a high-tech procedure).
Pea soup also works well and dries into little chunks that could be pulverized with a rolling pin, but it will rehydrate just fine in its crumbly state. Kidney beans and black beans for chili and refried beans are equally easy to do.

I like to dry a batch of moose hamburger, trimming out all fat to avoid it getting rancid. I can add it to the tomato sauce, dried beans or spice it up with curry. One nice thing about dehydrating your own camp food is that not only will you know it’s going to actually fill you up, but it will taste the way you like it. And it costs just a tiny fraction of the commercial stuff out there.

And I made some more jerky out of moose meat – always good for snacks or to add to the odd meal.

If you plan to go camping this year, give dehydrating your favourite foods a try!

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