When I first got into dehydrating my own food, it wasn’t really out of necessity. We were headed out on a 25 day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and for any of you who have been on a trip like that, you know it is glorified car camping. You have big fat coolers packed full of meat, cheese and produce. You can bring any and every kind of kitchen gadget you need, including unbelievably heavy dutch ovens and blenders (river margaritas, anyone?).
For a trip like this, having lightweight, shelf-stable, dehydrated meals and snacks is not crucial. Why on earth then did I go through all the trouble of dehydrating fifty pounds of food for an expedition that calls for overpacking gear and booze?
Here are a few reasons why I think you might want to consider dehydrating some food for your next big trip as well.
For starters, if you have any sort of food allergies or preferences, it’s good to be self-sufficient. You don’t want to be “that guy” who can’t have black beans in your chilli, and asks the other people in your group to go without in order to fit your nutritional needs. By dehydrating or prepping your own meals and snacks, you can cater to your dietary preferences without being a royal pain in the ass for everyone else.
As an example, on mornings when the menu called for hot cereal and milk, instead of singing the blues about being gluten and dairy intolerant, I could quickly put together my own meal. I would bust out my powdered eggs, coconut oil and homemade bacon bits, fry it all together in a pan over my Pocket Rocket, and serve the whole mess over a handful of fresh spinach from the cooler. Let the breakfast envy commence!
Snack Time on Steroids
What are you having for snacks on your next adventure? Let me guess… Clif Bars that expired back in 2010, a very random trail mix that’s been on six trips previously, cookies that will inevitably get squished in your pack, and if you’re lucky, Oberto Jerky. That’s all well and good, however, for a gal like me, I require a bit more excitement in my snack bag. Once I started getting crazy with my at-home food dehydrator, snack time suddenly became a fun tasting event! Pumpkin pie fruit leathers were a huge hit, Mexican cocoa banana fruit leathers were WAY too spicy, the lemon garlic chicken jerky was to die for, while the bourbon maple yak jerky needed some work. I’ve unsuccessfully made my own nut butter packets, and even destroyed a handful of vegetables trying to turn them into chips, but it has all been fun and delicious! I invite you to imagine the possibilities with your backcountry fare if you had the tools to tailor your menu to your personal taste buds.
Have you ever eaten cold sandwiches for lunch for a month straight? In thirty degree weather? While you’re soaking wet from another day of rain? Hopefully not!
Typical river menus include a quick and easy deli style lunch, with meat and cheese and bread for the day. After a while, I find wraps and sandwiches to be a bore, so I packed meals like dehydrated yams and sausage to quickly rehydrate and heat up in a pan on board the boat. This was a real morale booster when it was going to be yet another long, cold day on the water.
Higher Quality Nutrition
By day 20 of an extended river trip, no matter how cold the coolers have stayed or how well you’ve protected your grub from the ring-tailed cats, inevitably your fresh food is starting to look a little gross. When the menu started to default towards canned chicken and Velveeta mac and cheese, I was grateful to have homemade butternut squash soup and dehydrated sockeye salmon to turn into a hot, healthy meal. When you are pushing your body to its physical limits in the great outdoors, it is important to keep your vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake high and your immune system bolstered.
In addition to supplementing, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the nutritional quality of the grub you’re putting down at meal time. Strive to keep eating your fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy fats like coconut oil, and omega-3s from fish. Even if you’re not going to be making your own culinary masterpieces, bringing some smoked salmon or kipper snacks can help you get some of those omega-3 fats that you so desperately need.
I have yet to meet anyone that bought a food dehydrator and didn’t think it was the most fun piece of kitchen equipment they own. Whether you are making food for your outdoor pursuits, or simply preserving all the vegetables you grew this summer, a cheap investment in a food dehydrator can provide you with all kinds of enjoyment! By turning almost rotten bananas into banana chips, or converting mushy apples into delicious apple sauce fruit leathers, having a food dehydrator makes it easier to never let food go to waste. Plus, this helps ensure that my adventure buddy and I will continue taking trips together, since neither one of us is going to be starving or “hangry” when shit gets real out in the woods.
Dry It! You’ll Like It!
If you haven’t already looked into a dehydrator, I would encourage you to hop online and pick out one of the basic models, such as the Excalibur Five Tray or the Nesco Harvest Master. Every machine has its plusses and minuses, but all of them will get the job done. My personal favourite is the Excalibur Nine Tray with plastic trays and fruit leather sheets. There’s honestly not a single thing you can’t dehydrate with this set up!
To encourage you to put your new machine to use, here are two delicious recipes that are sure to create envy amongst your backcountry partners. I would recommend making a double batch and sharing the wealth 😉
Heather’s Portable Pumpkin Pie:
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
2 cups applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dried shredded coconut, unsweetened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons finely chopped raisins
Mix all ingredients together in a blender or food processor.
Spread mixture on fruit leather sheets lightly sprayed with coconut oil. You want it to be spread about 1/4 inch thick evenly, and make the edges a smidge thicker since they will dry the fastest.
Dry at 135 for about 8 hours, or until there are no soft spots and it feels tacky to the touch.
Once your leathers are dry, wrap them in plastic wrap and store in a bag until your next trip…assuming you don’t eat them all right away!
Heather’s Choice Pasghetti:
This was the first meal I ever made on my dehydrator trays. I put the dried food in a quart size ziplock and hauled it out to a cabin we skied in to for New Year’s Eve. When I combined this with hot water and simmered it in a pot for about fifteen minutes, my cabin mates were STOKED to have such a healthy, delicious meal after the long trek.
2 lbs lean grass-fed ground beef or moose meat
2 cups zucchini diced to 1/4 inch
2 cups crimini mushrooms diced to 1/4 inch
32 ounces marinara
1 cup onion diced to 1/4 inch
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp basil
1 tbsp herbs de provence
2 tsp salt + 2 tsp black pepper
8 cups cooked and shredded spagetti squash
Brown the meat until cooked all the way through. Add the onion, zucchini, mushrooms, and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant. Add marinara sauce and herbs, then let simmer till the vegetables are soft.
Meanwhile, cut a spaghetti squash in half, remove the seeds, and place cut side down on a baking dish with one inch of water. Bake in the oven at 400 F till soft or about 25 minutes. Gut the spaghetti squash and combine with the fully cooked marinara. Spread the hot pasghetti on dehydrator fruit leather trays, about 1/4 inch thick evenly.
Dry at 155 for 12 to 24 hours, until there are NO signs of moisture and everything feels brittle. Let cool and package right away.
To rehydrate, cover the food in a pot of water and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, until all the vegetables are soft and the meal is piping hot.
Heather Kelly is the creator of Heather’s Choice Meals for Adventuring. Inspired by her own backcountry trips, Heather strives to create healthy, delicious meals and snacks for folks headed out on epic adventures.
You can order her meals and snacks online at www.heatherschoice.com and use the coupon code JOMH to save 10% off your next order. Opt in for her newsletter to hear when her Ecookbook, Who’s Ready For An Adventure?! goes live this spring!