Dehydrating in Industrial Quantities

I am now well not my heavy dehydration preparation for the TGO Challenge and, from the look of it, I am not alone! The emails have started coming in. Here are some simple, additional tips!

You need lots of food. It is easy to under-estimate. Carry more meals than you need — obviously you have to prepare them in advance!

To cut time — use a pressure cooker if you have one. You do tend to loose some subtly with a pressure cooker but this is trail food we are talking about! If using a Pressure Cooker speeds things up a bit, then use it!  You don’t need to worry about thickening sauces and so on as the dehydrator will take care of any excess liquid!

Fruit — dehydrate as much as you can (and more than you think you need).  Real fruit is a real bonus on the trail. It is great to munch as you walk and can give you quite a shot of energy. You will need lots! DOn’t leave this until the last moment!

Vary you carbs! I tend to dehydrate rice, mashed potato (brilliant) and sometimes pasta. I also will carry a fair amount of couscous which doesn’t need cooking in advance. To easily dehydrate mashed potato use a potato ricer and squeeze out onto a dehydrating sheet.

Don’t worry about producing too much. You can always use it in the future. Fruit is a staple all year round. Meals can always be put in the freezer for longer life.  So long as you keep the food dry it will last — in a cupboard — for ages, it will just loose a bit of its taste.

Dehydration Recipe: Chicken Saag

This is a dehydrated take on the take away classic. It differs a little in that it doesn’t rely on a base of ghee (clarified butter) but it does utilise some of the traditional ingredients and methods.  It doesn’t taste half bad!

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Dehydrating Foods: Rehydration

Now summer is (I suppose) well and truly here the hits and discussion on my dehydration pages is on the increase. no surprise this as I myself am going to be spending some of the weekend dehydrating meals.

This week Stuart has raised the thorny issue of rehydrating meals. Tell me more he says, so here goes.

Method 1 — rehydrate as you walk

For along time the most popular suggestion was to take your meal out of your pack at lunchtime, place it in a Nalogene bottle and add a little water. You do need to make sure you don’t add too much water though. The hard Nalogene bottle can then be carried in the pack as normal.

Nalogenes are big and bulky and I adapted this technique for use with one of those military grade zip lock bags that you can get from many outdoor stores. I use a large bag which allows me to place the food inside and then fold back the top a number of times. This can then be slipped in the front pocket of my pack.

Both of tees systems work in the sense that the agitation caused by simple walking gradually rehydrates the food. However, I have found hat some foods are more stubborn than others and my zip lock technique can come a cropper with leakage

But this works.

Method 2 — Make a Pot Cozy

This is, I think, the best method for backpackers. You can make a pot cozy that specifically fits (or hugs) your pot. Bob Cartwright makes them out of cheap bubble lined aluminium foil, the kind of stuff that you can get from DIY stores and which is used at the back of home radiators. He has a video he has prepared showing you how to do it:

Bob is very finicky, or particular about how he makes his cozy. I am more slapdash and mine don’t look quite as pretty but they still work very well!

After I have set up camp I set up my stove, add food to my pot and a modest amount of water and then bring everything up to the boil. Don’t worry about whether you are using too much — as the food begins to boil you can always add a little more. One the food has come to a boil — or just off it — remove the pot and place it in your pot cozy. A double skin cozy like the one Bob makes is recommended. Bob sells the material for making a cozy at backpacking

Then simply leave your food to soak in the hot water for 20 to 25 minutes. AT the end of this time your food should still be very hot and steaming! For years I only travelled with one pot but now I allow myself the luxury of a titanium mug. I can know make a drink before I hydrate or boil water dirtily in the mug. In cold weather it is nice to get something warm inside you while you are waiting for your food to rehydrate.

You need to be more careful about water with some foods than others. mashed potato, for example, will absorb a lot of water and rice and couscous more than pasta! If in doubt go on the more water side — you can always drain some of this away. You’ll get a good feel for how much water you need as you use the system.

I tend to put my stew in the pot first add some water and then place the carbs (potato, pasta and so on) on top of this and then add some more water.  As you eat the sauce and the carb mix together quite naturally.

I should point out that — when I can — I always cook and the dehydrate rice and pasta. This makes a big difference and all you have to do is rehydrate it rather than cook it. Quick and east rice stuff you find in the supermarket is made this way but of course costs a lot of money. Couscous you can just add to your pot as it comes from shop.

The most effective and efficient cozy I have ever seen has been made by Colin Ibbotson. Colin made his cozy out of an old close cell foam sleeping mat.

Bob’s material works very well and lasts as well. Through use the cozy will get battered — and splattered with food — but these are easy and inexpensive to make.

A pot cozy works well when you are cutting down the amount of rule you use — it is great for use with alcohol or esbit-type tablets.


Method 3 — Using a Wood Burning Stove

This is my personal favourite — though you do need the weather for it, I wouldn’t want to be lighting a wood fire inside of my shelter. A wood stove can keep burning of a long time and you can gently reheat your food and stir from time to time. Under constant hear you will find that everything comes together again in about 25 minutes, but obviously your fuel is free!

On a warm night, gazing around at the scenery or the stars there is no rush and the constant heat means you can really get the food properly rehydrated and very warm.


And A Few Other Things

Never add salt to your food before you dehydrate — it makes everything take longer.  I will carry some salt and pepper in a small plastic container and add it as I use it. Similarly, I often carry some dried ergs or oregano to give things more punch.

To give food both more body and taste I often add strips of dehydrated tomato leather which works like a kind of dry puree. You can find the recipe for this in my Dehydration pages (see above).

New Site: Camping

Stuart Morris emails to tell me about his new website which features campsite recipes. I’ve been waiting for someone to do this for a while, it’s such an obvious idea. However, Stuart is not only doing things properly but also a little differently:

… the site is different from a regular recipe website because it gives you the option to add the approximate calories of a recipe, plus the approximate weight of the ingredients, which are two very useful numbers to know when putting together a meal plan.

The calorie and nutrition guide makes a lot of sense if you are up the mountains for any length of time. This is early days for the site but there are some unusual but appealing recipes here — how about backcountry burritos and dehydrated re-fried beans! Stuart concentrates on breakfast as well as evening meals and snacks.

Stuart is not only interested in giving you recipes but is interested in sharing yours as well! I shall certainly be contributing some recipes.

A nicely laid out site this. There are links to cooking accessories and even to pre-prepared commercial food for those who are feeling lazy!

All this and a great site photo as well — a Honey Stove in full burning mode overlooking a wonderful looking lake somewhere.

If you backpack regularly you will gain a lot from preparing and cooking your own food, and you will save yourself a lot of money in the process!

The Dehydration Season

I see my dehydration pages are receiving some attention at the moment. I doubt many people will be dehydrating for backpacking trips at the moment, but if you have a dehydrator now is a good time to be using it for all kinds of things.

Yesterday, for example, I took a white cabbage which has made it through the summer untouched and shredded it. I then quickly blanched the cabbage and then dehydrated it overnight. What I now have is a sweet, dried, vegetable which is great as a trail food but can also be added to winter stews casseroles and soups.

There’a a lot of stuff around over the next month to dehydrate whether you have a vegetable patch or not. Look for cheap and surplus product in the markets.

My apple tree will give me a lot of fruit this year and a fair amount will be made into a puree (without sugar) and then dehydrated into an apple leather. Or, the apple may be simply sliced and then dehydrated for trail food (or for something to add interest to porridge).

Autumn fruits can de dehydrated while of given the leather treatment. Leeks could be treated in a similar way to cabbage — dehydrated leak strands are showing up regularly in posh restaurants these days as a garnish.

With fruit and vegetables it is a good idea to dehydrate them all through the years. Dried fruits are great at any time of the year and why not simply get ahead of next seasons dehydrating? I means less of a rush when you get close to the backpacking season!

Dehydration: The Demon Chicken

The tricky subject of dehydrating chicken has raised its head on Twitter. Chicken is a really trick meat to dry. Here are my tips.

The problem with chicken is that it takes former to rehydrate and if the pieces are too big you will be chewing horrible chicken bullets for hours.

You must dice chicken pieces really finely. I prefer to mince mine but this requires a bit of care. You only need put chicken through the mincer once, or give it a quick bits in a food processor. What you then have is a raw mousse. If you just throw this into liquid it will clump together and be just as much a problem.

After you have cooked onions, garlic and so on – I tend to simmer these in water until soft – add the chicken and stir until you have a paste. Then add your liquid, tomato, wine, stock or so on, slowly making sure the dish maintains a paste like consistency. Cook and dehydrate while still at this consistency. It will now rehydrate without any difficulty.

Dehydration: Tomato and Fruit

Today the dehydration has moved on to softer things but they are no les exciting.

I’ve talked about dehydrating tomato before. This is simplicity itself. Half a load of tomatoes and place them on one or two baking trays. Cook in a moderate (not too hot) oven until they have begun roast and dry out. As ever with dehydration you can oil the trays but only lightly. Try and avoid as much oil as you can, especially if you intend to keep the stuff for a whole. Oil and fat are the enemies of dehydration. When tomatoes are ready, dried but not burnt, place them in a liquidisers or food processor and blitz. You could strain the pulp to remove the pips but this seems a bit of a faff to me. The skins will have disintegrated.

Poor the the pulp on dehydration trays – the ones with permeable membranes so tomato doesn’t get everywhere. Dehydrate until you have a tomato leather.

This leather is very versatile. Rehydrated stews can be a bit watery. I add a few torn strips of the tomato leather to my pot and this adds real body to the finished food. You can always use this with couscous or pasta to create a sauce to which you can add all kinds of fresh vegetables. I always take a few tomato leathers with me when hiking abroad – you are not really supposed to bring meat products into a new country, and if a sniffer dog finds them ….

I like dehydrating fruit all year round. Dried fruit makes for a great snack and there’s nothing like it for enlivening porridge or muesli. Today’s fruit includes mango, pear, apple and raspberry. Dried mango is absolutely wonderful. Red berries dry into very tiny bullets that explode with taste in the mouth. Pear is always excellent, it seems to respond well to dehydration.

The pears, apples and mangos were sliced, carefully, on a mandolin. If you have one of these lying around you will find it useful as it produces thin slices all of which are the same thickness, which helps when drying. If you have a protector thingy with your mandolin – use it!

Each of my food drops will contain plastic bags with a variety of home dried fruits. A real treat!

The Return of the Monster, 2012

Food dehydration or Scotland is now in full swing. As usual I shall make more dehydrated food than I need and will use much of it up in other trips and overnights this summer. It’s funny how much easier when you are just dehydrating for one.

This year I started with good chilli — I do like a good Chilli when I am out in the wilds. Apart from the dehydrator itself the best buy I ever made was a mincer attachment for my food mixer. A mixer gets rid of gristle effectively if you start with good meat in the first place. This chilli was made with beef. With red meat but the meat through the mincer three times and you can spread the stuff on fast, it is so smooth. Kidney beans, some beer, tomato pasata and we are on the way.

Today I knocked up one of my favourites. This time the base was chicken but it could easily have been lamb or beef. Into the pot goes tons of onion, garlic and celery. Then thinly sliced pieces of carrot, parsnip and swede are added in big quantities. Pasata and a glass of red wine follow together with some dried oregano and then a load of thinly sliced mushrooms and some  pearl barley. A wonderful kind of farmhouse stew. The root vegetables are the star here as their natural sweetness is real welcome when you bring the stuff back to life.

A feature of each evening for the next week or so will be the humming of the monster as it chugs and grunts away in the corner of the kitchen.

I could always buy the commercial stuff but it would cast a fortune and would taste nowhere near as nice. This stuff gives me something to look forward to the end of hard and wet day’s walk.

Now back to the chugging machine …

Dehydration Recipe: Chilli Con Carne

There is seldom a better comfort food on a cold night than a good, steaming, bowl of chilli, whether it be made with meat or simply beans. Chilli also works well as a trail food and — as ever — home made and dried versions will usually be far superior to commercial branded chilli.

This is an adapted version of chilli I cook at home. You can make good chilli with just chilli powered but I think it is enhanced by a few extra spices. Cumin is the most obvious addition but I will often add some sweet paprika as well. I have also added black cumin and caraway from time to time; the choice is yours.

I often use a beer as a liquid base to chilli and I do so her, adding a small bottle of French-style beer to the chilli.

Use canned kidney beans. For my last batch I used dried beans which took forever to cook to softness — which you really need to do in a dehydrated dish.

I eat this with rice that I’ve cooked and then dehydrated, essentially home made, easy cook rice.



Lean minced beef to quantity of choice. I seldom make anything less than four portions.It is best to buy lean meat and then grind or mince it yourself. You can use a food processor but a mincer or mincing attachment to a mixer works best as it tenderises the meat.

Onions, garlic and fresh chillies.

Canned kidney beans.

Cumin, paprika, oregano, chilli powder and black pepper. (Do not add salt — add it when you are reconstituting it — salt slows down the dehydration process).

Tinned tomatoes. Tomato Puree.

Small bottle of French-style beer.



Add a small amount of sunflower oil to a frying pan and at a medium temperature fry off the minced beef in smallish quantities. Tip off any fat that is released — you want as little fat in your finished, dried, food.

In you casserole or big pan add the onions, chilli and garlic. Just cover with water, bring to a boil and then simmer until cooked.

If using whole cumin, warm in a pan without oil until the spices give off their oil. Grind in spice mill or pestle and mortar.

Add tomatoes to the onion mix. Add your meat. Add spices and herbs to taste. Add beer. Add tomato paste to give it a little extra richness. Add beans.

Bring to a boil and then simmer until the sauce is thick and rich.




Fat is the enemy of dehydration. Subtly of taste is lost in drying and so the simmering of onions in water will not negate taste in the final food.

Dehydration tends to mute taste as opposed to freezing which can enhance some flavours (garlic for example). Work to the most spicy end of your personal taste.

Salt should be carried separately and added to the pot when cooking in the field.


Monster 2

Second batch of food tonight: a classic chilli.

Cumin and a little paprika add a bit more substance to the chilli which is made with beer. Lovely stuff but a mistake to use dried kidney beans – they took ages to cook and soften.