There are many good reasons to dehydrate food. It is very light to carry in your pack and you can also take less cooking fuel as your dinner only needs reheating. You can create more interesting and healthy meals than many commercial offerings. It is great when you arrive tired to the hut to have dinner almost already made and the pots are very easy to clean afterwards.
Making dehydrated foods does take a little practice – if your first efforts are disappointing then do try again.
Meals made from mince – beef, lamb or chicken – or vegetarian meals made from lentils, beans and chickpeas are usually the most successful. If using larger pieces of meat you should cut into small pieces and chickpeas are best mashed a bit after cooking. The meal should have as little fat or oil as possible as this tends to go rancid so use premium low-fat mince.
The food needs to be made with strong flavouring as some flavour is lost in the process. (You can add extra herbs and spices when you re-hydrate.) Cook as much liquid out as you can on the stove and place on the tray no more than 1cm deep.
Turn the dehydrator on to high and check the food every 2-3 hours. About halfway through the drying process, when the food is starting to look dry, turn heat down to about 2/3 full power. When the food looks totally dry, place in a plastic bag and place in a warm place for ½ hour – if any steam is present put back in the dehydrator. Total dehydration times vary from overnight to 2 days.
To rehydrate you place the meal in a billy or pot, add commercial dried vegetables (if you are using them) and cover with water.
Leave for at least an hour stirring occasionally and adding more water as required. Bring up to boiling, leave a couple of minutes and serve.
Also good to dehydrate are
• Cooked brown rice
• Canned beans – reduce liquid on stove first and spray tray with chefmate or grease lightly as sugar in sauce tends to stick
• Fruit – either sliced or stewed (add sugar after rehydrating). If you have trouble with sliced fruit going brown and drop in water with vitamin C added (eg Berrocca)
Because the dehydrator operates at lower temperatures than cooking in an oven, hygiene and food safety are very important.
• Clean the trays (not the metal parts) with a diluted bleach solution before use
• Cook food thoroughly before beginning dehydration
• Begin dehydrating immediately after cooking the food when it is hot
• Do not turn the dehydrator off for more than a couple a minutes (when you are checking progress) during the dehydration process
• Store dehydrated food in the freezer or a cool dry place until you leave on your tramping trip