“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”
~ Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World
Now that summer is over, let’s celebrate the fall. There are many things we can do to enhance our families’ food security. As many still have the opportunity to buy summer harvested crops in bulk and at low prices, one of the best things you can do to ensure access to food during the winter months is dehydrating and storing.
There are many ways to preserve and store food for “rainy days”: we have canning, freezing, curing with salt or sugar, preserving in oil and vinegar, smoking, etc. Dehydrating (or “drying”) is one of them too.
What I like from dehydrating is that is one of the easiest and fastest to do, requires low or no energy sources, once food is dried requires little space and can be stored almost anywhere with minimum safety considerations and it is one of the methods that preserves food for longer periods of time (some, like potatoes, can be stored in good shape up to 30 years!) In contrast, canning requires many safety measures, equipment, is time-consuming and you definitely have to learn the skills. Freezing takes space and requires long-term energy to keep the freezer going. In both canning and freezing, you lose some of the nutrients and food quality or flavour, while drying keeps the nutrients intact and in many cases enhances the flavour.
Dehydrating has been used by campers, the military and astronauts to allow them to transport food without too much weight or space and cook it faster. The long-time duration is also an asset.
Dehydrating is easier for herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables (in that order), but can also be applied to meat and fish, dairy products, grains and nuts.
Dehydrating can be simple: clean, peel, slice and spread the herbs, fruits and vegetables on the dehydrator trays:
Once dehydrated, many fruits (and some vegetables and nuts) can be eaten as they are or used as spices or in teas (such as dried herbs) or powders (from almost anything). Others need re-hydrating and can be easily used in salsas, soups, salads, sandwiches, casseroles, etc.
With so many things available at almost any supermarket in Canada (and sometimes in very cheap prices), you may wonder what is the advantage of doing this at home, or why to make the effort in the first place?
Here are some additional advantages:
- It ensures that the products are organically grown and of good quality: you can grow your own herbs, vegetables and even fruits, or buy them from a local CSA, farmers’ market or co-op.
- I gives you an additional skill that you may regret not having if times become tough or you can’t find certain products in the future (and this will eventually happen)
- It gives you an opportunity to teach your children a new skill, share an activity that is not around a flat screen, and enjoy different ways to eat food
- It provides you with long-term food security in case of local emergencies that may prevent you from accessing food at supermarkets
- It gives you food you can carry to camping, vacation or in emergencies where you have to leave the house in a rush. Dried food is light and occupies very small space
- You can combine an create your own “convenient, fast-cooking food by adding spices and ingredients for chowders, soups, casseroles and salsas and storing them in clean jars
- It gives another use to all those jars and plastic containers you have saved for years and have in the basement
- You can pack the dry fruits for your children’s snacks or family hiking adventures: mixed with nuts, cereal, yogurt, cream or by themselves are great!
- It creates a great gift for birthdays, Christmas and other occasions (you can prepare your friend’s favourite recipe and dry the ingredients, then put them in a nice jar and decorate it specially for them, you can also dry flowers and herbs from your garden and create dry potpourris and sachets, it is so easy that you will start asking yourself why have you paid so much for those artificially made ones)
- Drying things can save you money: if you buy in bulk, buy things in season, grow your own or buy and dry with a friend or neighbour, the costs will be reduced
- Drying is fun and healthy. Anybody can do it.
How to dry food:
Although you can use the least expensive one (the sun), it requires full-sun and your presence to make sure it is not spoiled. It also takes more time. You can also use the oven or the microwave.
I use an electrical dehydrator. It costs more at the beginning, but it pays itself after a few uses: it saves time, energy and space.
To maximize the use of energy, I make sure I plan ahead, use all the trays at once and mix foods that have similar needs (most fruits do well at 135 F/54 C, most herbs at 95 F/35 C and vegetables at 125 F/52 C).
How to store them:
- Use clean and dry containers that are easily sealed. I use old jars, plastic containers and plastic sandwich bags. Make sure there is no moisture and no other food as it may contaminate your batch.
- Label your containers with date and content’s name
- Store them in dry and dark areas of your house, rotate them and make sure you use the old ones first
Things I dehydrated this weekend: tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, apples, pears, plums, strawberries, bananas, ginger root, oregano, basil, roses and some wild flowers…
Hope you have enjoyed this post. Please share your own steps towards re-skilling, resilience and family/community food security…