Dry It Yourself: Home-made backpacking food healthier, cheaper

Carry Porter doesn’t think much of the dehydrated backpacking foods you can buy off the shelf. They’re oversalted and often packed with unpronounceable ingredients.

And they’re expensive. So Porter, a lifelong hiker and backpacker from Kirkland, started making her own. She also climbs, and backpacking and climbing is hungry work.

Porter teaches classes on her technique. Here’s Porter’s basic system. It’s simple and affordable, and you’ll end up with something you really want to eat on the trail.

Here’s how it works.

1. Cook something you like to eat.

2. Add more spice than you usually would. Dehydration saps a bit of the flavor from spices.

3. Chop up any big pieces, or give it a whirl in a food processor. You want pieces about a quarter-inch or smaller. Larger pieces don’t rehydrate well.

4. Stick the food in a dehydrator until it’s good and dry. Usually overnight is sufficient. Crumble the food and check for any moisture, especially in the larger pieces. If in doubt that your food is dry, give it more time. It is impossible to over dehydrate food.

5. Slip a serving into a plastic freezer bag, label it, date it and store it in a cool, dry place.

Porter says she tends to do her dehydrating in the spring. She’ll look ahead at her plans for the year and calculate how much food she might need.

Say she plans to be out for 12 days: She’ll plan to prepare meals for that long. She makes items such as pineapple oatmeal for breakfast. For a snack, she might have olive tapenade, a delicious, flavor-packed treat that would feel quiet decadent on the trail. For dinner, it could be black bean mole or maybe tomato lentil soup.

Preparing the food is simple. All you really need is hot water and a cozy (an insulated pouch to help your food rehydrate more quickly. If you don’t want to carry a stove, you could rehydate your food with cold water, but it will take much longer.

You would want to start rehydrating dinner in the early afternoon, for example.

Here’s how Porter suggests rehydrating the food.

1. Slip your bag of food inside a cozy (you can make one yourself).

2. Pour enough boiling water into the bag to cover the food, plus an inch or two. Add more water for soups.

3. Close your cozy up and let it set for about 15 minutes, depending upon the type of food.

When you’re done, you’re left with no dishes to do, and only a small plastic bag to carry out as trash.

Tips

  • Avoid fatty foods. They don’t dehydrate well and will go bad more quickly.
  • Test your recipes at home before taking them on the trail.
  • Food safety considerations: Fully cook food before dehydrating, make sure it’s fully dry and store it in a cool, dry place. Insect pests or mold are the most likely problems. Inspect your food before eating it.
  • Allow dehydrated food to cool before bagging it. Put as much as you will use for one meal per bag.
  • Label and date your bags.
  • Meals will last about a year to a year and a half.
  • Get creative and don’t work too hard. You don’t have to do all the cooking. Store bought spaghetti sauce, for example, is just fine. Cook pasta as usual, coat with sauce, and dehydrate it all.
  • Pack a small container of chili flakes and generic seasoning to fix any underspiced food.
  • Use freezer bags. Pack extras in case one is damaged.
  • A long-handled spoon makes stirring and eating easier.
  • A standard portion size is about 2 1/2- to 3-cups of food before dehydrating.
  • To dehydrate liquids, such as soup, spread it on a tray liner or parchment paper.
  • Side-mounted dehydrators will dry foods more quickly, especially if you need to use a tray liner.
  • Don’t have a dehydrator? Ask around to see if you can borrow one. Or split the cost of buying one with other families.

To make a cozy

Buy pipe insulation from a home improvement store. It’s like shiny bubble wrap. Cut the insulation slightly taller and twice as wide as the freezer bag you plan to use. Fold it in half and tape the edges, leaving the top open to slip in your freezer bag. If you cut the front edge a bit shorter, you can fold the top in like an envelope. If you’d prefer, you can also heat up your food in your cooking pot. Simply make a cozy to fit your pot.

Olive tapenade

  • 1 cup green olives with pimientos
  • 1 cup pitted black olives
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, half seeded
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

At home: Pulse all ingredients in food processor until it looks like olive tapenade you’d buy at a deli.

On the trail: Add cool water and let rehydrate for 5 to 10 minutes. Use less water than you would for most recipes.

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