During the course of arising out of my slumber these past seven years to the fact that our country has taken a historic and possibly terminal change for the worse, I’ve noticed there seems to be stages of awaking from that long-winters-nap, for those of us fortunate enough to have had such an experience. Personally, as I look back I consider it to be a God thing– where I was, where I am now, and how the journey has transpired. And when I finally started moving on my new-found convictions, I, like most others, felt one of my first priorities was to build a food surplus. After I was satisfied that I had an adequate start there, I turned my focus to other areas of independence envisioning myself one day writing an article on how I had purchased a homestead, successfully mastered that one acre garden that is supplying all my veggies, raised a dozen chickens, a cow, rabbits, maybe a goat or two, got the whole canning thing down, installed my off-grid solar power system, and finally waved, “Sayonara” to the system that I once suckled from.
Well, I haven’t arrived at that place yet…but I’ve left.
As I initially researched the various food storage systems, the one that stood out as being able to serve my personal dietary needs was dehydrating. Alright let’s knock off all the yawning! This could actually turn out to be a really good article! The choice for dehydration centered mainly on the fact that a large portion of my diet consists of both fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits to a varying degree, and back then I didn’t have a lot of money, so purchasing months, let alone years, of freeze-dried stuffs was out of the question. I considered canning, but at that time it seemed too intimidating for some reason, although now that I can on a regular basis it’s so simple that I often wonder how this skill was ever lost in our modern society. Although I’m not a vegetarian by any means, I didn’t always eat healthy like I do now, and were some catastrophic event to occur I just couldn’t see myself going back to a diet void of this key staple. You see, growing up our family was penniless, living in the city, only Dad worked as was normal four decades ago, and so we ate basic survival foods– goulash for din-din, Cheerios topped with sugar for breakfast, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches for school lunches, and then after its arrival Little Debbie’s became us kid’s drug-of-choice when it came in on Saturdays. However, these “drugs” were kept under close scrutiny, but my siblings and I became pretty creative at the steal-and-stash technique. Long-story-short, after years of eating basic junk into adulthood, I could barely eat anything healthful without experiencing serious stomach issues. So in my late twenty’s I slowly started making changes to my diet until after a couple of decades of conscious effort, I was eating very healthy, and the stomach issues along with the yearly colds and flu had all but disappeared.
The more I read the more I was convinced that dehydrating could supply veggies that would store longer term, retain their nutrition, and obviously aren’t pasteurized to death like store-bought canned goods. Additionally, in keeping with the adage of storing what you eat and eating what you store, this system would ensure my diet remain unchanged, so in the end dehydrating rose to the logical answer for the veggie part of the storage equation.
When I began I was unemployed, so even Mason jars and oxygen absorbers seemed pricey. The solution I came up with to counter that was vacuum sealing. The plastic bags are sold in rolls and cost pennies per bag. Oh, I had read this wasn’t an ideal choice for long-term storage, but being either naive or possibly a little arrogant I felt I could beat conventional wisdom and make it work. My reasoning went something like this: “What difference does it make the kind of material you use as long as the air is kept out; that’s all that matters—just keep the air out, right?” So there I went full steam ahead. I began drying, and a year passes and then another. I’m studying, learning, awakening to other areas, still drying and decide it’s time to test my accomplishments. Yikes! The learning curve sets in, hard. Thank God it came fairly early:
The beautiful strawberries that I had dried and taken to work to show off only two years prior, the ones that everyone raved about, had turned into let’s just say diaper mush, in both color and texture. I can’t speak to their taste, because I couldn’t muster the courage to actually put any of that in my mouth. The only thing that didn’t resemble a diaper changing was the smell, so that was clearly a do-over.
The pears, again after two years in plastic bags and looking similar to the strawberries were somewhat palatable but only if you were in Bosnia during the ’92 year-long lockdown.
Apples looked more like mozzarella cheese sticks, peel and chew, peel and chew. The mushrooms, “Let’s keep it moving folks, nothing to see here.” Zucchini and squash were more cheese sticks.
Now the bags and bags of mixed veggies, my systems’ flagship? Now there was success! Oh yeah, baby! I mean who cares if they had all congealed into one pound blocks that looked like kaleidoscope cheese. All that was needed was a small chipping hammer and you were ready to cook. So what if they tasted like rubberized cardboard; this was survival food. Suck it up! So after weeks of trying to convince myself they were somehow salvageable, I eventually used them to build a three-story mixed-veggie-castle memorial in the middle of my living room floor, complete with surrounding moat and draw-bridge no less.
Fortunately, the waste was limited to my time and roughly a few hundred dollars. The biggest lesson for me in that was, when it comes to prepping, there are areas that absolutely do require creative thinking, but there are other areas that mandate you stick with proven practices. Dehydrating for long-term storage is one of those.
Dehydrator Take-away Lessons Learned
Below are some other learning curve take-a-ways:
Take-away #1. Vacuum-seal bags are valuable in your arsenal but not for any type of food storage outside of the freezer, period. It’s not the right system. It doesn’t work. You can’t get around it.
Take-away #2. For long-term storage of dried goods, you must spend the money for jars, oxygen absorbers, and if you can afford it a simple vacuum sealer. But if only oxygen absorbers are used, you will still get an impressive shelf life. I have read articles of people boasting ten years of storage from this system. One website dedicated to dehydrating lists the shelf life of various dried vegetables and fruits individually and all came in with fifteen years-plus shelf life, many at twenty and a few as high as thirty years. (One of those 30 year foods was apples! Thirty years, who woulda’ thunk? Guess I could have saved my mozzarella apple-sticks.) That’s pretty impressive. It’s almost like freeze dried.
Take-away #3. In dehydrating there’s a reverse-shift in emphasis as to where the money needs to be spent. It’s completely opposite of how we think in other areas. Here’s what I mean: A friend of mine recently saw my collection of rods and reels, which is somewhat sizable as I’ve been a lifelong fisherman, and asked in a bit of an astonished tone how much all that equipment cost. I explained the cost wasn’t that much actually because I don’t buy high-end rods and reels. They are middle-of-the-road stuff but no big bucks there. Why? Those don’t make-or-break putting fish in the boat. However, what I do spend the bucks on is what’s known as terminal tackle. That’s everything from the reel outward– premium line, hooks, connectors, et cetera. It’s the gear in the boxes. That’s the stuff that determines success or failure. If any link in that chain fails, there’s no prize and no food in the freezer. I’ve since transferred this principle over to my prepping in general and dehydrating in particular. I found you don’t need a four hundred dollar dehydrator (the rods and reels) as most might think to put food in the pantry. That doesn’t determine ultimate success or failure. But the mason jars and oxygen absorbers (the terminal tackle) will absolutely make or break you here, like it did me. I did it completely backwards. I delayed starting until I could buy the “best” dehydrator, and then I skimped on the most important pieces. It would be like buying an ultra-sensitive three hundred dollar rod, adding a two hundred dollar reel, and then spooling it with K-mart brand fishing line and tying on no-name hooks. Get it?