By Travis Birch
Preparing our life off the grid allows us so many opportunities to learn, grow and to be one with what we consume. Jerking meats is a no-brainer, but we use the same methods to apply the same process to our fruits and vegetables. With a couple of gardens on our property, we tend to have a wealth of homegrown fruits and veggies. The only downside to this is that we usually have a whole lot at one given time, and we have eaten it or find a way to give it a longer life. Not to turn our head when a good deal presents itself when we are shopping in town, the local store sometimes rotates out older inventories of their fruits and vegetables by pricing them to move. I buy up all that they will let me have.
Over the course of a nice dry breezy fall day, (or when the opportunity presents itself), I will prepare my Electric Smoker for the long haul and get to drying some veggies. A Dehydrator works just as well, or your oven. The oven for my application won’t reach the low temperatures that I look for, but my electric smoker will. The important thing is maintaining a consistent temperature through the process.
Drying is an option to preserve without canning. Drying fruits is an easy way to bring a snack along with a hike without it turning to mush, or bruising it into an inedible lump. Vegetables dried out and bagged or vacuum sealed will last through the seasons. Making a beef barley soup with fresh homegrown veggies in January gives your meal a great sense of authenticity and deliciousness.
First, chose your drying process, and clean it. Make sure your device doesn’t give your fruits the smell of your last brisket, or your recently jerked venison. Cut your fruits and vegetables into nice sized chunks, ½” to ¾” with a Chef Knife. It is very important to understand that you will lose about 75% of your weight through water loss during the process.
I try to do my fruit separate from the vegetables, but that is because I do several batches, it shouldn’t affect the overall product if you chose to do them together. Keep in mind though that some veggies, like garlic, onion, and broccoli will give off some strong lingering odors.Fresh Bananas, apples, strawberries, pears, tomatoes, and peppers go together. Beans, peas, carrots, mushrooms, and root veggies are matched up. Finally, garlic and onions meet their fate together. I try to maintain a temperature of 135° and expect to allow this process to take up to 8-10 hours. I inspect my product every two hours, then after 6 hours, I check every hour.
The benefit of using a smoker or dehydrator means I don’t tie up the kitchen oven for hours on end, creating a few darting eyes in my direction. When the process is finished you have a product that will last longer when it is stored in a cool dry place, such as my root cellar. Allow the product to acclimate to room temperature before bagging it for future use. I also use a vacuum sealer to remove as much oxygen as possible. Oxygen is the arch enemy of this process. You can also use some 1-gallon zipper lock Storage Bags, just make sure that you get as much air out prior to sealing.
At the end of the day, we have a great go-to snack, that we know is healthy and free of any insecticides that we don’t want. We also have a trusted source to feed us through the non-harvesting seasons.