Whatever you decide to begin with or whenever you switch to a new item, do a small test batch first. This is a bigger deal than you might think, for a number of reasons. Let me give you a couple of personal examples where I did this step right and where I ran amuck. I have been dehydrating for years now and recently decided to add bananas to my repertoire, even though I don’t eat a lot of them; you know the think when the grid’s down and there is the need for potassium. Bananas should be pretty simple, right? Well, as I mentioned previously, I normally like to dry at the lowest temps possible and I don’t care for blanching if I don’t have to. So I went out and bought a small boat load of these and do my thing. Results? Dried at too low a temperature, they case-hardened. Additionally, they weren’t blanched and ended up with a distinct cardboard flavor. Disaster? Well not if your city is being besieged and it’s a matter of case-hardened cardboard bananas or nothing. However, to keep as a long-term storage product, not that batch; I ended up throwing them out. Here’s another example, this time executed like a pro. Oranges, which were available in five different varieties in the market I frequent, so I bought six of each kind and did a test batch. I found out the Valencias have a wonderful tart flavor and the Navels are a superb classic sweet orange, but the others were bland, I mean really bland once dried. So, I settled on the Valencia and Navel oranges. Had I bought a case of the other three and dried without testing, it would have been another train wreck story. Okay, one more example that landed right in the middle, although had it been done properly could have been another bragging piece. I aced the oranges, so I figured tangerines, being their kissing cousin, was a no-brainer and I could just duplicate my preparation and drying temps the same as the oranges. However, tangerines have much more juice, and they ended up with far less “meat” in the finished product. They were “airy”, if you will. They weren’t a bomb by any means and I didn’t throw them away but were very tart and tasty. Had I done a test batch, I would have known to cut them thicker so the end product was meatier. I don’t know if any of you remember the fried pork rinds that used to be and maybe still are sold in convenience stores, but they reminded of those; lots of flavor, but you have to shove an entire handful in your mouth to get anything to actually chew on. So do a test batch. With fruits it’s suicide not to, especially if whatever you’re working on is a favorite and you intend to put away large quantities. I’d say it’s critical. Now, whenever I dry anything new I go through the entire process of dehydrating, rehydrating, and testing before moving forward with large scale stockpiling.
This point can’t be emphasized enough and just might blow you away, especially if you’re dealing with limited storage space. Dehydrated vegetables (and some fruits) reduce anywhere from one-third to one-sixth their original mass. I do both canning and dehydrating and assure you there’s no comparison to the footprint needed to store the two. My dried goods, for example, are stored in a small two-foot by two-foot coat closet. That closet currently houses, get this, just a tad over one thousand pounds of fruits and veggies! That’s the weight after hydrating or before dehydrating, however you want to look at it. Let me say that a little differently. We’re talking about twenty-four inches square, stacked only neck-high currently with one thousand and thirty pounds of food. Beat that!
Another advantage of dried stuffs, maybe a lesser selling point but still valid nonetheless especially in say a grid-down scenario, is the ability to reseal jars once opened. Think about this closer. It’s almost like having a refrigerator that requires no electricity. With no power, obviously, all frozen storage will be toast. We all know that. But even canned goods (meat in particular or anything wet in #10 cans) would need to be eaten in their entirety once opened. Dried foods on the other hand can be resealed by simply dropping in a fresh oxygen absorber if needed, and they quickly revert back to their original storage state.
As you may have noticed, I have intentionally omitted recommending this or that type of dehydrator. Here’s why. They all just circulate dry air. It’s ankle-deep so don’t get stymied by thinking that you need top-of-the-line in order to get started. You don’t. Yes, granted, some do circulate air better than others, but unless you have the cash to go out and get the best you’re going to end up like me in the beginning, doing nothing. If you can only afford the ten or thirteen dollar units mentioned earlier in the article, get one of those; now you’re up and running. There’s no shame there. The goal is product on the shelf, right? I initially spent good money on a “primo” brand-name dehydrator, and as I said it died in less than a year and yet my second-hand unit (which doesn’t even have a name on it, seriously, and to this day I couldn’t tell you what brand I own. It came with no tags, no model number, no markings, nothing and is still in service and putting excellent quality food in storage. And be honest, when the do-do hits, will anyone, including yourself, really give a rip what the name of your dehydrator is? My unit could be an Acme Dandy Dry for all I know.
So let’s break down the specifics of what a simple example will cost and net you: You’re dirt-poor and picked up one of those units on Craigslist for whatever you could afford. You buy six half-gallon Mason jars at $2.16/each and oxygen absorbers (the 500cc packets, because you don’t have a vacuum sealer) at .30 each. For simplicity, you went to the store in my area and found the bags of mixed vegetables in the frozen section on sale, 10/$10; that’s ten real pounds. I use this example because ten pounds of these fit perfectly into one half-gallon jar. The total cost for ten pounds in the jar on the shelf is…$12.46! For a case of six, or sixty pounds…$74.76 total cost! That’s not bad. Let’s say you’re on a fixed income and after a few months you have managed to store up two cases of these frozen mixed veggies, just two…that’s 120 lbs. at a cost of only $149.52. Shoot, add a hundred pounds of fluffy basmati rice (now you’ve got 220 pounds of food stuffs in the pantry) and you’re eating for a while, and eating well. Put these veggies over your rice and garnish with soy sauce, or maybe cook up in a can of diced tomatoes with some dried onions, celery, and mushrooms thrown in, or switch it up and use a can of cream of chicken/mushroom soup as your base and toss that over rice. Shut up! Get some good seasonings in there, and that’s survival slop gone gourmet! Sit down, now we haven’t even started yet! Let’s factor in those canned meats you have on hand and get some serious creations working here! And oh yeah, you better have some good OPSEC working, because come SHTF starving people aren’t gonna sit congenially by on the sidelines if they get wind those kinds of dishes are being served up at your place! Sorry. I got a little carried away there. Back on point.
Dehydrating is that rare prepping system that doesn’t require a large investment to either start up or maintain, and the initial cost can be arguably one of the least expensive of all categories. Once you have your dryer, you’re simply picking up items while out doing your normal shopping, going home, doing a little chopping, dicing, or opening a few packages. Poof, you’re building surplus. It requires very little effort. I rarely spend more than an hour prepping anything for drying, and in the case of packaged frozen items it’s literally a matter of minutes. The learning curve is minimal– for veggies it’s almost nonexistent, and the price of produce in America today is affordable to even the poorest. Unlike canning, once you start a batch you’re not married to the process for hours on end. It does its thing while you’re out doing life and working other projects. Finally, just to give you a bigger picture of what’s possible, after only two years, I currently have enough fruits and veggies acquired to rehydrate one pound of whatever I want, every single day for three years. And there were many weeks in that two-year period where my unit was just collecting dust. It’s part-time work, and it’s that bountiful.
So whenever I pass by my dehydrator, the door is open, and there it sits empty and idle, almost inevitably I hear this little voice running through my cookie jar asking:
”So tell me again…exactly why isn’t your dehydrator running?”