In addition to food preservation methods such as freezing or canning, dehydrating or drying food is a time-tested and natural way to preserve fresh food. Most folks think it to be complicated and don’t know where or how to start. Below you’ll find the basics and some recommended resources to help you on your way.
Long before the modern conveniences of freezers or pressure canners, people from early American settlers to members of the military have relied on healthy and nutritious dried foods to supplement their diets. Dried or dehydrated foods have a long shelf life, are easy to store in a small area, and can be carried easily in a backpack or emergency survival kit.
Many people believe that the nutritional value of dried foods is greater than that of foods that are canned or frozen. There are a variety of methods that can be used to dry foods that do not require expensive equipment such as canning jars, storage shelves, chest freezers, or pressure or water bath canners.
Dehydrating or drying foods simply removes the excess moisture in fresh foods that promotes the growth of bacteria or mold. Once foods are dried, it is important to keep the foods stored in airtight packaging. A vacuum-sealer such as a Food Saver machine (We just got one of these and it is one trick machine!) is a handy appliance to package dried foods for long-term storage or for use on while hiking or camping.
Drying is an economical way to preserve fresh produce as well while it is in season. Vegetables, fruits, beef jerky, herbs, dried soup mixes, or grains are just a few things that can be successfully dried at home.
Here are some books recommended by friends who do a lot of this kind of stuff:
- Putting Food By – Fifth Edition- Ruth Hertzberg, Janet Greene and Beatrice Vaughn (Plume Books)
- Making and Using Dried Foods – Phyllis Hobson (Storey Books)
- The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food: Easy Step-by-Step Instructions for Freezing, Drying, and Canning – Janet Chadwick (Storey Books)
A good friend of mine is big into making jerky and I’m going to give some of his recipes a whirl too.