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Boundary Waters

Drying the Fall Harvest--Part I by Teresa Marrone

Dateline: December 2000
Now that the days shorter and the nights cooler, most campers have reluctantly packed up the tent, stowed the sleeping bags, and tucked away the camp coffeepot. However, like a kid with a new baseball mitt in December, they still love to think about the fun things they'll be doing next Spring.

Actually, now is a great time for campers to plan their next outdoor season. One satisfying activity is home-drying some vegetables, fruits, and meat for use in next Spring's camping meals. Home drying not only eliminates the expense of commercially packed freeze-dried meals, it also allows dishes to be tailored to individual taste.

Dried foods weigh up to 90 percent less than fresh, and keep for up to a year if stored properly. This makes them great for any sort of camping -- from a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to the local campground, to a two-week-long trek into the wilderness where every ounce counts.

Home food drying works on a simple principle: warm air circulates over foods to remove the moisture. Key elements are:

  • Preliminary food preparation: Washing and slicing zucchini, or chopping and blanching cabbage are two examples.
  • Proper drying racks. Pieces of food, or whole small foods like beans and peas, are placed on grids to allow air flow and drying on both top and bottom.
  • Warm, circulating air. 125 to 145 degrees (F) is ideal drying temperature for most foods. Warm air carries away more moisture than cool air. Air circulation speeds drying by pulling moist air away from the food.

Easy-to-use home dehydrators are available at large department or discount stores. Choose a model with a thermostatic control, and a built-in fan in the base for air circulation. A home oven also works well for home drying. Use cake-cooling racks, covered with bridal-veil netting or cheesecloth, to hold food to be dried; place the lined rack over a cookie sheet to catch any food that may fall through the netting.

Foods to be preserved by any method should be fresh and ripe. All fresh, raw foods need preparation before drying, whether it's simply peeling and slicing, or a more involved treatment like blanching (quick cooking in boiling water). You can save work by using some frozen vegetables and fruits; some canned foods also work well. Any necessary pre-treatment was done before the food was frozen or canned, so all you need do is empty the foods onto the trays and start drying. As a general rule, if a food is available in both frozen and canned forms, the frozen form will dry better. In most cases, properly prepared fresh foods work best. Potatoes are an exception; frozen diced raw potatoes dry better and are much less work than fresh potatoes.

Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before drying, even if they're going to be peeled; pesticide sprays and waxes are common on store-bought produce. Also wash your hands with hot, soapy water before handling foods to be dried.

Arrange prepared foods in even layers on the drying racks. Air circulation is important; there should be spaces between the pieces, and none should overlap. Drying times are longer in a heavily loaded dryer than one with a small amount of food in it. Don't dry strong vegetables like cabbage or onions in the same batch with fruits or mild vegetables, as flavors may transfer.

Load and stack all trays on the dryer or in the oven before you start drying. Start drying at 145 degrees (F) for foods listed below, then reduce heat by 10 degrees F after an hour. Rotate trays and rearrange or stir food periodically to promote even drying. To check food for dryness, remove a piece or two from the dryer, and cool to room temperature before checking.

If you dry a load that contains trays with different foods, some will be dry before others. Simply remove the trays with the dry foods, and continue drying the rest. Large pieces of food like tomato halves may dry at different rates; remove individual pieces as they become dry.

Commercially dried foods are prepared with sophisticated equipment, and keep almost indefinitely. However, it's difficult to be certain the optimum amount of moisture has been removed during home drying, so take extra precautions when storing home-dried foods. Place dried foods in moisture-proof containers. A dry root cellar is a good spot; the refrigerator or freezer is even better. Home-dried foods stored in the freezer should be OK for a year, although some nutrients will be lost during storage. Six months is the limit for storing home-dried foods in the refrigerator or root cellar. If kept at room temperature, home-dried foods should be used within 2 months. Check your dried food occasionally. If a batch shows signs of mold or if it looks or smells funky, throw it away rather than take a chance.

Below are instructions for drying some individual vegetables, and a recipe that uses home-dried vegetables to make an easy camping dish. Next month, we'll provide home-drying information on more vegetables as well as some fruits and some new, exciting recipes using your home-dried foods!

1 cup green beans = about 1/4 cup dried
Frozen green beans dry more quickly and rehydrate better than fresh; canned beans have poor color and taste. Blanch fresh beans before drying. Doneness test: straight-cut beans are hard and somewhat shriveled; French-cut are brittle, curly, and very shriveled. Total drying time: 4 to 6 hours for straight-cut, 3 to 4 hours for French-cut.

1 cup julienned carrots = 1/2 cup dried
1 cup shredded carrots = 1/3 cup dried
1 cup sliced carrots = 1/4 cup dried
Fresh carrots dry best, followed by frozen. Canned carrots yield poor results. Peel and cut fresh carrots, then blanch until tender-crisp before drying. Frozen sliced or diced carrots need no pretreatment. Doneness test: leathery, deep orange. Total drying time: shredded or julienned carrots take 3-1/2 to 6 hours, sliced carrots 5 to 6-1/2 hours.

PEPPERS, BELL (Green, orange, red, or yellow)
1 cup diced fresh peppers = 1/4 cup dried
1 cup sliced fresh peppers = 1/3 cup dried
Wash fresh peppers; remove stem, seeds, and inner ribs before cutting. Frozen peppers also work well. Doneness test: dry, shriveled, leathery. Total drying time: 5 to 7 hours.

1 cup diced frozen potatoes = 1/3 cup dried
Frozen diced or sliced potatoes are easy to dry; simply spread evenly on dryer trays. To dry fresh potatoes, scrub well, then peel if you prefer (peels add nutrition and fiber, but are tough when rehydrated); cut as desired. Blanch until just tender, then dry. (For convenience, buy boxed dried hash browns, or boxed dried potato slices from an au gratin mix, at the grocery store; commercially dried potatoes work great for camping.) Doneness test: hard, white, no soft spots. Total drying time: 3 to 5 hours.


Combine in quart plastic zipper bag:

  • 1/2 cup dried diced potatoes
  • 1/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 2 tablespoons bacon-flavored bits or dried cooked bacon pieces,optional
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried diced red or green bell pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried dill leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon Butter Buds, optional (in the spice aisle of the supermarket)
  • A pinch of crumbled dried thyme leaves
  • A pinch of white pepper


At camp: In medium pot, boil 1-1/2 cups water. Add mix; stir well. Cover; remove from heat and let stand about 15 minutes. Return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
2 servings

Part Two: Click for home-drying instructions for additional vegetables, as well as fruits and meat, and several more recipes especially for campers!

--article courtesy of

  Mountain House--The #1 Backpacking Food!


Techniques and recipe excerpted from The Back-Country Kitchen: Camp Cooking for Canoeists, Hikers, and Anglers, by Teresa Marrone. This 208-page book features over 150 recipes for campers, as well as complete home-drying instructions for over 50 foods. Article copyright 2000 Teresa Marrone; used with permission. All rights reserved.


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