I have a new project – food dehydration…

For many years I’ve used dehydrated vegetables. Initially in pre-prepared meals (by me), for backpacking trips, before it dawned on me that carrying money was a better option, especially in the UK, but in recent years in the kitchen. I also used them to make vegetable powders, very useful for adding flavour to almost anything.

Then my supplier was taken over by another company, and quality plummeted.

Now, though, I’m finding I need to get more flavour into my food. My sense of taste has been unreliable for some time now (age-related?), and I also need to reduce my reliance on salt and salt-based products (until proven otherwise I’m treating heart failure as very real, for reasons I’ve covered elsewhere).

As you might know, I’ve started making my own powdered ceps, as the result is better than the commercially-available version and, yesterday, I was drying a pack of Shiitake mushrooms on the living-room radiator, with my leg giving me hell, and I thought. “Why am I doing this? Why not get a dehydrator and do it in relative comfort?”

So I did. But this is the result. The black tray is the original container, packed tight with Shiitake mushrooms, the small one contains the dried Shiitake. When ground to a powder, they’ll take up even less space. Even common field mushrooms (flats, not button), respond well to drying.

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In my backpacking days dehydrators were expensive items, now they’re not, though they can be, depending on the degree of sophistication. And on the urge to rip off customers; one model, generic and much rebranded, goes for £25-ish up to £80 – for exactly the same basic model – on Amazon). After much rummaging on Amazon I found this model, unusual among its fellows in the sub-£30 price range, in having a timer. Why they all don’t is a mystery, as it could add no more than a couple of pounds to the factory-gate price, if that, but adds a lot in terms of perceived value:-

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Timer aside, it’s quite basic but, if it’s successful, I might buy something better.

Dehydrators are simple beasts, just a stack of perforated trays, with a heating element and fan in the base to circulate warm air, plus a temperature control and, in this case, a timer.

A common complaint on Amazon is that none of these machines come with adequate instructions, especially as regards timings and temperatures, but the consensus among reviewers is that the information is available via Google.

There are, on Amazon at least, relatively few books on the subject. I now have four, one of which is rubbish, confuses degrees C with degrees F, and is very badly written, for which, when the writer expects payment, there is no excuse (there’s no excuse anyway, but my view seems to be a minority one!).

I bought this one late last night, and it’s really very good, a mine of information. It’s American, so recipes feature cups, but measuring cups are widely available until such time as the US discovers scales. One error so far, a reference to sulphur bisulphide for its preservative properties – what’s meant, presumably, is sodium metabisulphite, widely used in the food and drink industry and easily available (homebrew stores, chemists, or Amazon, as powder or as Campden Tablets). Treat with caution/avoid if you have respiratory problems. There are alternatives.

These two are currently free (but click the Buy Now button, the other one is for Kindle Unlimited users). Also pretty good.

This one is dire, and the fact that it’s only £1,84 doesn’t detract in the slightest from its direness.

Other sources of information on dehydrating food are survivalist manuals (often slightly unhinged, but you don’t have to buy into the philosophy, or the fact that they really don’t understand the term “end of the world”!), or backpacking cookbooks.

And, of course, there will be progress reports here.

And hey, here’s one now…

When I was making my current batch of soup, the leeks were heavily trimmed as the green parts are very fibrous, and unpleasant to eat (note to butchers – so please stop putting them in pork and leek sausages!). However, dried and ground to powder, that unpleasantness goes away, and they impart quite a lot of flavour (I’ve done that with dried leeks I’ve bought).

Do not, though, use a dehydrator to get rid of aging food – Bottom-of-the-Fridge Soup is still the best option for that!

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