In the days before freezers and packaged supermarket food — in fact, even before electricity — food was preserved by drying.
It was simple and easy to do and enabled the surplus of seasonal fruits and vegetables to be carried over to later in the year, especially during winter when the soil didn’t want to produce too much. And when a beast was slaughtered, drying was an excellent way of preserving the meat for later consumption.
What are food dehydrators?
Food dehydrators are essentially small containers (for those wishing to dry small volumes in the convenience of the kitchen; there are many larger units that can handle commercial volumes) in which drying racks are heated either by convection or fan-forced currents at controlled temperatures.
Fruits and vegetables are generally 80-95 per cent water, and meats between 50 and 75 per cent. By lowering moisture to around 15-20 per cent, bacteria, yeast and moulds that would otherwise spoil the food are constrained from growth. By carefully reducing the moisture, the flavours of the food can be preserved, the weight greatly reduced, and the shelf life greatly extended. This is the drying of food, not cooking.
Dehydrating food for camping
For campers, drying food is a valid way of preserving those tasty snacks, and even the main components of meals, before leaving for a trip.
Food dehydrators are not really items to carry around in your van unless you are on mains, as they consume enough power to kill any battery system, requiring as much as 1000W, or more, of 240V power for up to six hours.
Dried foods can include almost every form of foodstuff, and they can be rehydrated at your camp and form the basis of all manner of meals and snacks.
Tips for dehydrating food
- Choose only the best and freshest fruits and vegetables for drying.
- Try to keep your cut sections to a uniform thickness for consistency of results.
- Peeling fruits will generally get a better result as the skin is less permeable to moisture and tends to dry in a tougher layer on one side.
- Very moist fruits, such as pineapple and mango, do take a long time to dry properly, so err on the side of thinner rather than thicker cuts.
- Immerse apples and pears in lemon juice when first cut to prevent them oxidising and going brown.
- Jerky that simply involves unflavoured or unmarinated meat can result in a bland taste, so some additional marination or flavouring is recommended.
- Don’t mix strongly flavoured items, such as onion, with sweeter tasting fruit.