Dehydration Project: Introduction

Whenever I’m asked what is the best piece of backpacking kit I’ve ever bought there’s no hesitation. By far my best buy has been my food dehydrator.

This strikes some people as odd but dehydrators are wonderful for preparing for those times when you are backpacking away from shops and civilization. Home dehydrated food has little in common with commercial products and — certainly in this country — it really enhances the camping experience.

I can remember when I’d finally had enough of commercially dried food. I was in the Pyrenees, camping at the side of a high tarn. I stopped walking at midday, a chance to do some washing and just have a relaxing day in some coolish weather. I opened a packet of chicken curry. I seldom remember eating anything as dire as this. The food tasted very peculiar, the overwhelming taste being one of cinnamon; it was more apple pie than curry. The protein in this dish was supposed to be chicken, but it could have been anything. And with all commercially dried food there was a pervasive taste of pot-noodle type salts and preservatives. If you like pot noodle, then look away for the next few days!

Home dehydrated food is wonderfully versatile. Not only can you produce complete meals a dehydrator can be used to dry a range of ingredients that can simply be mixed with couscous or some other grain. Home dried fruit is a simply wonderful trail food, indeed, it is so good that you will want to produce this all the year round; it’s simply too good to be just left for backpacking trips.

If you are a reasonably proficient home cook then you’ll find dehydrating pretty easy. There are some rules for preparing food for dehydrating and I’ll cover them in this series. But it is remarkable what you can dehydrate yourself.

For me dehydration comes alive when I’m backpacking in this country, particularly in Scotland and Wales. At the end of long day of trudging through Scottish bogs, let’s face it, you’re looking forward for something to eat. And you do look forward to eating your own home-prouced food, not least because you can prepare proper sized portions!

Looking at my trial diary I see that my last TGO Challenge was powered by: Thai Chicken Green Curry; Bolognese sauce; chilli con carne; lamb and spinach curry; beef and ale casserole; vegetable curry; and lamb provencal. I was also carrying a home-made, fruit, trail mix and home-made fruit leathers which are amazing things. I also carried some home-dried carbohydrate as well. Pre dried rice is reconstituted very quickly and home prepared mashed potato was a revaluation. When you begin to experiment it is amazing what you can take with you. Rose Cartwright produces home made deserts and has even succeeded in producing a very decent fish pie.

If this has captured your imagination then home dehydrating might be for you.

While a dehydrator is a great buy they are not cheap. Dehydrators come into their own when they are used. Over a couple of years they will save you a lot of money. But they are probably not something to buy on a whim. In these credit crunch times dehydrators make a lot of sense, but they are a purchase that needs proper consideration.

So, to start the project we will look at the different kinds of dehydrators that are on the market.

Comments

  1. Steve A says:

    I’ve been wondering about doing the Thai Green curry but worried about the coconut milk. Presumably, since you are still here, it can be dehydrated but in your recipe, do you simmer the curry (inc milk) for some time?

  2. No problems with this at all. I’ll put a recipe up soon. The coconut milk works well — this is one of the tastiest recipes.

  3. Chris Southwell says:

    I’m keen to extend my walking range by taking dehydrated food, but too mean to buy a dehydrator. But I’ve got a friend with an Aga cooker. Can the ‘cool’ oven on the Aga be used to deydrade food? Or does the warm air need to be blown through the food with a fan? Your advice greatly valued!

    • Chris,

      This should work fine. Lots of people dehydrate in low ovens and I think Hugh Fernley Whittingstall dehydrates in an Aga!

      Just experiment and don’t worry – you can never ‘over’ dehydrate something. (You can burn food of course ….)

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