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post #1 of 34 Old 06-19-2015 Thread Starter
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Drying Your Food

Dehydrating (or drying) is a tried and trusted way of preserving food for the long term. Done right, it can produce food that is nearly as good as fresh. And if sealed properly, can last for years.

I've always done my drying in my home-made dehydrator which looks very much like this (although mine has 2x as many shelves):



As I move onto our boat full-time I'm planning to carry on with drying food, but I'm not sure what the best tool will be. I've built myself a solar dehydrator from the plans in that wonderful book, "Sailing the Farm". I have yet to put it to the test though.

I'm also looking at something from this company: Excalibur Food Dehydrator | Buy Factory Direct & Save. Some of the models look very good.

Who's drying food out there? Any tips or things you've learned? I've never dried fish, for example. Would love to hear from those who do. Plus any other thoughts or experiences you've had.

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post #2 of 34 Old 06-19-2015
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Re: Drying Your Food

Going to be a great thread, I predict.

I've not done this, so I'm curious. What powers the dehydrator and how much energy does it use? Are we talking light bulb wattage or hair dryer wattage and for how long? Or is carbon based fuel?

If you dry very different products at the same time, do they subtly influence each other?

Have you ever dried a prepared meal all at once, or just the ingredients?


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post #3 of 34 Old 06-19-2015
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Re: Canning Your Food

I would like to dry some apple slices for the boat next fall. Has anyone tried microwave drying for this? I've experimented with it and it seems to work pretty well to remove moisture from the slices. Maybe as a pre-drying procedure to speed up the process? I have never done food drying as such and wonder if this is an acceptable method.

Just saw Mike's dehydrator link. If mods want to move this, would be good.

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Re: Drying Your Food

In humid climates (my case it was when I lived in Hawaii) I bought a bunch of food grade dehumidifying packets. Would dry the items then put them in zip lock bags with a couple packets. Kept the items from rehydrating and going bad.

This is a great way to use things like peppers, onions and other vegetables when you are cooking for just one or two people. Need just a few bell pepper slices to add flavor to a meal? just take out what you need and rehydrate. Also I like it because I can "prep" a bunch of stuff at one time when I'm in the mood, dehydrate, then just use what I need for a quick meal when I'm lazy.

We mostly did fruit for hiking trips (light weight, energy concentrated food) but I could see this as an excellent way to stock up on fruits and vegetables while in a harbor before a passage.


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post #5 of 34 Old 06-19-2015 Thread Starter
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Re: Drying Your Food

Quote:
Originally Posted by Minnewaska View Post
I've not done this, so I'm curious. What powers the dehydrator and how much energy does it use? Are we talking light bulb wattage or hair dryer wattage and for how long? Or is carbon based fuel?
Thanks Minn., hopefully other people will chime in. All the dryers I know of use a low-powered heat source. Mine is a low-watt element, but I know of people using incandescent light bulbs (which are getting harder to find now ). The point is to have dry air moving over the food, so it doesn't require a lot of power. Warm air is best, but it's mostly about flow. This source puts power consumption at 200 watts -- certainly much less than a hair drier.

You can also dry in an oven (electric or gas). Element/burner has to be on the lowest setting (~35C or ~100F), and the door needs to be cracked open, again to let the air flow.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Minnewaska View Post
If you dry very different products at the same time, do they subtly influence each other?
I often dry multiple types of fruits & veg together. I've never noticed any flavour migration. But the house does definitely take on the aromas of whatever is being dried. It's a wonderful smell.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Minnewaska View Post
Have you ever dried a prepared meal all at once, or just the ingredients?
I've done both. For canoe/kayak trips I would usually prepare full meals, all nicely packaged in a vacuum-sealed bag (usually with the instructions). For our sailboat travel I just store things in bulk, but I will seal batches in smaller amounts; usually in week-sized bags (a week's worth of peppers, or mushrooms, or ground meat, etc.)

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Originally Posted by dwedeking View Post
In humid climates (my case it was when I lived in Hawaii) I bought a bunch of food grade dehumidifying packets. Would dry the items then put them in zip lock bags with a couple packets. Kept the items from rehydrating and going bad.
Thanks dwedeking, good tip. This sounds like a good idea, especially if you are dipping into the ziplock over a period of time. I'll have to pick some up. I tend to open a vacuum-sealed bag of mushrooms, for example, and then re-seal what I don't immediately use in a ziplock. I don't trust ziplock for long-term storage, but they work pretty well for shorter periods (like weeks).

Quote:
Originally Posted by dwedeking View Post
... I could see this as an excellent way to stock up on fruits and vegetables while in a harbor before a passage.
This is kinda what I'm thinking as well. We anchor out most of the time, but when we need to go into a marina every few months, for say water or fuel, we could also spend a few days stocking up on local (cheap) food. We could then dry the excess and be gone again for another few months.

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post #6 of 34 Old 06-19-2015
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Re: Drying Your Food

I found the packets to work good for all manner of spices, flours etc. which will clump or mold in a wet environment.

Also can be used in your underwater camera case to keep moisture from fogging up the case.

Long term storage you could those vacuum sealing systems (save space and remove all the air). I use more of the heavy duty freezer bag zip locks for shorter term storage vs the cheap sandwich bags.


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post #7 of 34 Old 06-19-2015
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Re: Drying Your Food

Mike, the biggest problem with solar powered ovens, etc is the the boat motion pretty much makes them somewhat ineffective. I had a lady friend in the Florida Keys that baked me a loaf of fresh bread in her solar oven once a week and delivered it to my boat while it was still piping hot - WOW! It was wonderful tasting. However, she had to use her solar oven on land in order to overcome the boat motion while on a mooring ball. I suspect you would find the same problem with a solar powered dehydrator as well.

As for drying fish, the dried salmon I tasted many years ago was so salty I couldn't stand the taste - it was like eating pure salt. That said, I smoke many, oily species of fish, salmon, bluefish, croaker, etc... This pretty much cures the fish, but it has to be refrigerated to make it last for an extended period of time. I guess I'll stick with using my onboard refrigerator/freezer and store bought canned goods. And for those that believe those store bought canned goods are loaded with chemical preservatives, read the labels - there are no preservatives used at all - they're not necessary in a vacuum sealed environment.

On my boat, I have lots of storage compartments that are quite suitable for canned goods. I could easily store several hundred pounds of canned meats and veggies and have lots of room left over for storing other things. I always have cans of stew, soups, corn, peas, asparagus, potatoes, carrots, beans, and a variety of Chef Boyarde things, such as spaghetti and meatballs, Italian sausage ravioli, cheese ravioli, canned chicken breasts, baby shrimp, and tiny cocktail sausages. I purchase all of these at BJ's Wholesale Club, where the price is 40 percent less than the regular grocery stores. Sure, you have to purchase larger quantities, but there is usually a variety of flavors in the larger packages, which keeps the meals interesting. The exception to this, of course, is the canned veggies and meats, which are usually in six packs.

For breakfast, I use Egg Beaters, brown and serve sausage, orange juice and or coffee, an English muffin topped with margarine and orange marmalade - OH YEAH! Lunch, when I take the time to eat it, is usually a sandwich that I make and store in the frig right after breakfast. There are times, though, when I just want something different, so I heave too, fire up the kettle grill and grill a hotdog or Johnsonville bratwurst and put it on a fresh roll, a bit of mustard, fresh vidalia onion and sweet pickled relish, and wash it down with an ice cold Coors Light - MY GOODNESS that tastes good. After lunch, I'll set sail and head for my nighttime destination. However, when offshore, I just set a course, trim the sails, lock the steering and the boat will track as if it were on rails. I'll then be able to fire up the propane stove and cook whatever I wish for dinner.

Then it's back to the cockpit, check the email, call my loving spouse and let her know I'm still alive and well, and if I'm within range of WIFI, I'll check out some of the forums, then check out the latest movies on Crackle, or turn on the TV if I'm within range of a station.

Now, there are lots of neat places along the east coast, especially during light wind conditions, that I can catch supper, which is often in the form of yellowfin tuna, bluefish, mahi, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, Cero mackerel, and other nearshore species. While anchored in a quiet cove one night along the ICW, I heard a clicking sound outside that traveled right through the hull. It turned out to be big shrimp, nibbling away at the algae that had formed on my hull. A quick toss of the cast net and I had a couple dozen big shrimp for dinner that night. Fresh caught shrimp steamed in Old Bay Seafood Seasoning and some chopped celery makes a fantastic supper.

It's a tough life being a coastal cruiser,

Gary
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post #8 of 34 Old 06-19-2015
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Re: Drying Your Food

Much of my fruit drying was from wild foraging sources. So a potpourri slurried in the blender ,heated like for making jam ,and pan dried thin on deckhead racks over the oil stove .Interesting snack but too much work to be a major food source..Up the north coast ,hot smoked salmon fillets were good and would keep well.Wooden box tied to a tree, length of scrap stove pipe from smoking fire (alder) Fish ended up dry, dark, hard as H and very flavourful (of alder) Dad would come back from Nitnat with the hold full of the dam stuff and feed us bean soup with sliced fish all winter. Yum!
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Re: Drying Your Food

Coming home form Hawaii, I began catching a lot of mahi mahi, but I was out of canning jar lids, so I dried it in a solar drier. Made good muchies, no salt added . I found the wooden framed solar dryer in the book "Sailing the Farm" too bulky, so I made the frames out of hoops of 4mm hard stainless wire I found in a scrapyard . Each is slightly smaller than the next, so they sit inside one another, making them stack up less than an inch high, total . I used 1/8h inch soft nylon line, in place of the seat belt they suggest, making that much more compact, and cheaper. I had to reduce it's diameter so I can get it thru my main hatch without all the goodies sliding off.
works well in sunny weather. In rainy weather, it works when hung above my wood stove.

Last edited by Brent Swain; 06-19-2015 at 12:39 PM.
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post #10 of 34 Old 06-19-2015 Thread Starter
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Re: Drying Your Food

Thanks guys, all very interesting.

Gary: I don't think a solar dehydrator will be as affected by boat movement. It's basically a black blanket, so it doesn't matter where the sun hits it, as long as it stays in the sun. I would be affected if the boat movement keeps introducing moist cool air, but I think that would require a lot of movement. A solar oven works by reflecting sunlight. It works best when angled towards the sun, much like solar panels. A rolling boat would make that more difficult, for sure.

I really must try smoking some day. You make it sound easy ... another thing you can teach me when we eventually meet up (in a few more years ).

Len: I've made all manner of fruit and veggie leathers. It's pretty easy in a dehydrator. Puree, spread over plastic wrap, and wait. Usually takes about 6 hrs in my dryer at home. I don't do a lot of fruit leathers anymore since I can usually just dry the fruit straight up, but it's a good way to store stuff like tomato sauces.

Along the same lines, I will dry made meals like chilli, pea soup or mulligatawny stew. These dry really well, although I found you need to use higher heat at first to get them started (but still not cooking heat). They dry into a crumble that is easy to store and reconstitute for a quick meal.

Brent: Damn... why did you tell me about your improvement to the solar dryer . That's a great idea! You're right, it does stack rather deeply. Accordioning the trays is a great idea. I'm going to revamp mine. Thanks!

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