The Dehydration Games: May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor

In this post I hope to give you an overview of how to dehydrate different foods and some insight into how we are planning on dehydrating all of our meals for the PCT.  First step, get a dehydrator.  Two years ago for my birthday Kyle got me an Excalibur 5 door dehydrator and although some people might think this verges on getting a woman a blender for her birthday, they would be wrong.  Great gift and now it is finally being put to use!  The great things about this dehydrator: the number of trays (five allows me to dehydrate a lot of food at once) and the fact that they are square, which allows me to maximize the amount of food I can dehydrate at a time.  I also have ParaFlexx non-stick drying sheets for each tray so that I can dehydrate foods that are looser and would normally fall through the fine mesh trays that come with the machine.

I’ve got the dehydrator, now it comes down to knowing how to use it.  I began where I usually do when researching something: surfing the web and reading books.  My web surfing revealed a number of very useful sites:

Each of these sites gives very good instructions to beginners trying to learn how to dehydrate food.  They also have their own recipes, many of which look very yummy and their own products for sale like cookbooks.  I read through these websites and bookmarked specific recipes that I thought looked good.  I also own a couple of books that helped me get started:

These books all include information and tips on how to dehydrate food in general and then recipes for all sorts of different dehydrated meals.  As I did with the websites I read through all the theory, even if it seemed repetitive, and folded down the corners of recipes I wanted to try.  They have lots of good advice about how to dehydrate solid foods like fruits and vegetables; basically cut them small and even, blanch longer cooking vegetables first like potatoes and brussels sprout and spread them out evenly on the trays, with space in between to allow for air circulation.  What I was more interested in was how to dehydrate entire meals and after doing all of this research I realized I had two basic options.  Option #1: I could buy or dehydrated the separate ingredients and assemble them or Option #2: I could cook something and dehydrate the whole meal in one go.  Depending on the dish one of the two approaches might be more appropriate.  For example:

Option #1, White Chicken Chili Soup:

Because our white chicken chilli is pretty soupy you can’t just ladle it onto the dryer sheets and expect it to work, it would run everywhere and you would end up with a giant mess.  In order to remedy this problem instead of cooking the soup and dehydrating all at once you need to break the soup down into individual ingredients and dehydrate them separately.  Here is the basic recipe for the soup:

  • Chicken
  • Jalapenos
  • Green Chilis
  • Onion
  • Cilantro
  • Tomatillos
  • While Beans
  • Spices (Oregano, Cumin, Red Pepper Flakes, Salt and Pepper)
  • Chicken Broth

Using a bouillon cube for the broth you could just chop of the separate amounts of each individual ingredient that you will need, dehydrate them, put it in a baggy with the dried spices and be ready to rehydrate on trail!  Or you could take it one step further and make a leather of some of the wet ingredients.  A leather involves making a thick fruit or vegetable puree and dehydrating it so that the end consistency is akin to the kind of fruit leather you can buy in the store.  This can be a snack or it can be something you use to thicken soups and broths.  I this case I will be blending some of the jalapenos, green chilis, onion, cilantro, tomatillos, and wet spices together to make a leather to add to the soup.  I think this will result in a tastier thicker soup with a better blend of flavors.  If you are looking for a chunkier soup with defined vegetables I would steer clear of this plan.  The other thing to consider when you are breaking down the individual ingredients and dehydrating them is if you want to do them all yourself or if it would better serve you to buy some of the ingredients online.  For example, it is pretty hard to dehydrate meat.  Often times, when rehydrated, it ends up being chewy or hard, never quiet regaining its natural texture.  Freeze dried meats in the other hand rehydrate much better than dehydrated meats, but freeze drying is a commercial process, not possible at home.  Therefore it might benefit you to buy certain things like freeze-dried chicken online.  You can check out the following suppliers, they sell all kinds of different freeze-dried and dehydrated products:

While you can dehydrate most of your own vegetable, fruits, legumes and grains it is nice to let the experts take care of meats, cheeses and other dairy products.  Also, a word of caution, DO NOT dehydrate onions in your own home, buy those online as well.

Option #2, Cuban beans and rice:

This approach is much simpler than option #1 and requires a lot less planning, but only works for certain dishes.  It involves cooking an entire meal and dehydrating it whole.  This week, for example, Kyle and I made cuban rice and beans for dinner and we made four extra portions to be dehydrated for the PCT.  Cuban beans and rice can go straight into the dehydrator because it isn’t too soupy or broth-y.  The beans themselves have quite a bit of broth but we let the PCT portions sit overnight in a tupperware with the rice and the rice soaked up all the broth.  This allowed me to spread the beans and rice over the trays in the dehydrator without any leaking through.  Other meals that will be easy to do this with are split pea and ham soup and the potato and leek soup that are listed in the table above.  Both are very thick soups that won’t spread out too much or drip through when plopped on the dehydrator sheets.  Using a mix of the two techniques Kyle and I are ready to begin making our meals.

Using Craig’s PCT Planner we tallied up the number of mail drops we will need and how many days of food each one will hold.  We came up with twenty drops: five six-day food drops, five seven-day food drops, and eleven five-day food drops.  This leaves us with 114 breakfasts, countless snacks and 95 dinners.  The reason there are so many less dinners is because we are always getting into town on the last day of our food drop, where we get to enjoy a real meal for dinner.  Armed with this new information I created the following tables outlining each drop:

Screen shot 2015-12-08 at 10.31.32 AM

Kyle and I had a pretty fun time coming up with 95 dinners and other than mac and cheese and mountain houses which are in every food drop, no dinner repeats more than twice.  Breakfast is a little harder to mix up but we have come up with a wide variety of additions for oatmeal and grits, and we have some other breakfast options that you don’t see in this graph like apple n spice breakfast lentils, breakfast bulgur, and jerked beef has with potatoes and peppers.  I have used our charts to compile huge shopping lists that we will chip away at over the next couple of months, allowing us to spread out the cost of all this food.  We will keep you updated as we continue to dehydrating!  To end this post I just want to add a couple more fun websites or articles that have recipes or products pertinent to the PCT and food dehydration:

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8 thoughts on “The Dehydration Games: May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor

  1. Great information guys!
    Yep, LaNae dehydrated a total of 720 meals/breakfasts/deserts for our expedition and these kept us well fed and healthy for the entire trip. You are correct….dehydration is the way to go.

  2. You sure like variety! 🙂 I have to admit I just eat the same old stuff for days if I go on a trip of some kind as it doesn’t bother me – I’m often too tired to care! But my trips are nothing like as long as yours – a week at the most really.

    I certainly don’t think a dehydrator makes for a bad or boring present – a very useful (and very expensive) gadget for outdoors trips. My friend bought one years ago and sometimes lets me have some of his dehydrated veggies if we’re away at the same time and they’re delicious. I usually end up missing out fruit and veg if I’m on my own as, undehydrated, they’re too bulky and heavy to carry.
    Carol.

    1. Yeah they are great! The variety is more about health than anything else. Plus we did eat a lot of the same old thing on the AT and we are looking forward to some variety. AND I am really excited about trying out a bunch of recipes. Obviously it would be easier to just repeat meals all the time, but why not go big?!!

  3. Great advice. Dehydrators are such a useful tool.
    We like to harvest our own seaweed and dry it out to add to Japanese broth soups. And fruit leathers are a brilliant trail food – I like mango and ginger.

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