With the onset of winter, my boats spend a lot more time in the shed, but my dehydrator sees plenty of use as I begin prepping food for the next season of canoe and sea kayak trips. Drying your own camping food is the best way to minimize costs and eliminate the excessive salt, preservatives and packaging of store-bought meals. As opposed to freeze-drying, which requires industrial equipment, dehydrating relies on long (up to 24-hour) exposure to low heat (generally 110 to 145 degrees F). It's possible to sun-dry, oven-dry or even air-dry some items, but a store-bought dehydrator from a manufacturer like American Harvest makes the task foolproof.
Before you begin, pick up Trail Food by C&K editor-at-large Alan Kesselheim—which covers all the ins and outs of dehydrating foods and practical tips and recipes for wilderness cooking. Here are eight things I've learned in 15 years of guiding sea kayak trips and dozens of canoe expeditions.
- Dehydrated foods excel on trips longer than one week, or in situations where going lightweight is a priority. Going fresh is easy for shorter trips. In moderate climates, pre-frozen, carefully packaged meats last up three or four days, while most fruits and veggies carry well for a week. Be sure to minimize handling time, protect fragile foods and store kitchen packs out of the sun.
- Hummus and other legume-based spreads break up peanut butter and dried salami lunches. Kesselheim's recipe for lentil paté is a favorite.
- I've kept fresh cheese for up to a month on canoe trips. The key is to buy it in small-sized units or cut it into appropriate blocks and package with a commercial vacuum sealer. Store it with other melt-prone items (e.g., chocolate) in a soft-sided cooler. Grated cheese dehydrates into brittle slabs that keeps for months and rehydrates reasonably well in the field.
- While it's possible to dehydrate eggs at home, they're available at some food co-ops, bulk stores and online. Ova Easy egg crystals are the best I've found. Also look for dehydrated tomato paste, black bean flakes and onions.
- A friend turned me onto Nido powdered whole milk—rich, tasty and available in most grocery stores.
- Pre-cooking rice, beans and pasta and dehydrating them slashes cooking times in half. Similarly, you can dehydrate chilli and stew for simple, one-pot meals in the field. Salsa and spaghetti sauce also dehydrate well and can be crumbled in a blender.
- Check the expiration date on flour tortillas—some will keep for months! I typically plan on 10 to 12 days of fresh breads before transitioning bannock, a simple concoction of flour, baking powder, sugar and water that's fried on a stove or slow-cooked over an open fire.
- Don't forget dessert. Chocolate is a standby and no-bake cheesecake with fresh harvested blueberries is bliss.
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