Letter Re: Harvest Right Freeze Dryer

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Hugh,

If the purpose is having a year’s supply of food in a root cellar for the next 25 years “just in case” that you never intend to eat until doomsday, the Mountain House products are less expensive and a lot less work, since you can just store the cans after you receive them and forget about them.

I got my Harvest Right mainly because I was throwing away too much really good food. I don’t grow my own but buy from local organic growers. There is always more than I can eat before it spoils, and one point Harvest Right brings up is that the cost of food you throw away can pay for the freeze dryer. Then there’s winter coming when there won’t be any local produce, so how do I insure I have a supply of good food until next growing season? So after setting it up, mine has also been running almost continuously.

There’s canning and other preserving techniques, but they are a lot of work, and most take some of the flavor and nutrition out in the process. The only work for the freeze dryer is to slice and arrange the items properly on the trays, packaging them when done, and some basic maintenance.

A few notes – things you don’t see in the ads:

  1. There is a large, heavy vacuum pump that attaches to the side via a hose, and it’s a bit noisier than I might like. I had to remove and reattach the hose to get a good vacuum. (It was tight, but it is picky about alignment to get a metal to metal seal.)
  2. It will consume vacuum oil. It will get contaminated and stop being able to pull enough vacuum every half-dozen or so batches, and although you can recycle it using filters and charcoal (I haven’t tried it yet), it is another item you will have to pay for along with the electricity to run it. [Editor’s note: This is one of the things we have tracked over the last 18 months and will report on in the follow-up.]

    Amazon is the best deal I’ve found so far.

  3. You can go years with just that (I plan to rotate), but if you want the 25 years, you need oxygen absorbers,
  4. There will be a smell left for a while from the vegetables similar to what you get when cooking them up, so I have a fan I can circulate air to clear it. It doesn’t seem to be enough to cross-contaminate different batches, it just smells funny for a while.

Some tips:

Cans or jars are nice, but I’m just using those zipper bags or heat sealers; some long-leaved veggies don’t fit well except in a big bag.

Besides oxygen, light and heat are the enemies, so I just have a black storage totes and keep them in a cool place and put the bags inside. (I try to pull as much air out aas possible and have thought of getting a small nitrogen tank to use for this and my tires.)

Buy an extra set of trays. They don’t cost any extra shipping if you get them with the dryer, and you can prep your next batch and have it ready to go. The problem is the limited size when you have springy vegetables, like spinach, which has thin leaves that aren’t flat. So I use paper towels between layers and flatten them in my regular freezer so they will hold flat, and I can reduce the freezing time. I’ve also used grill toppers. I fold them into a Taco Shell shape, and they will hold the leafy, springy veggies in, but am looking at a better shape or making a basket out of poultry fencing or trays to separate thin layers. The clearance is just under two inches.

My partial failures, which I had to rerun or run longer, were because part of the vegetable was blocked so the water didn’t come out. I’ve found the biggest problem is when the item is freezing it will freeze to the tray hard, forming a seal so it will still be moist inside and this will remoisten the rest of the bag so it won’t be crunchy. Pre-freezing helps, since you can break them away once frozen and with a new paper towel beneath there won’t be any sealed area. It is easier and works well to use Teflon Sheets at least on the bottom. I usually layer paper towels or some teflon grilling grids or other between layers of thin items.

My favorite food so far is raspberries. They keep all their flavor when dry and are a nice tart healthy substitute for candy. There are more berries, but raspberries were the only ones available locally.

The best snack is scrambled eggs (add your favorite salsa, peppers, onions, or whatever you do for an omelet). They’re like cheese puffs but also healthy, especially if you do free-range chicken eggs. Hard-boiled eggs split in half also work, but I don’t think they are as good.

I have crunchy kale, spinach, chard, and lettuce, which is like chips; I do the whole leaves.

– T.Z.

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