REDUCING FOOD WASTE: The easy way to preserve: dehydration

I learned to can shortly after I moved to Oregon. Yup. I’ve only known how to can for about 6 years. There are people who live among us who have FORGOTTEN more about canning than I will ever learn. As wonderful as canning is as a method to preserve foods we enjoy eating, I quickly learned how much easier it is to dry food for safe storage and later use.

The point is to remove moisture, thereby eliminating mold as a destroyer of food. This can be done using the sun (yeah for our Oregon sunny summers), the oven (at its lowest setting) or an electric dehydrator.

I picked up my first dehydrator at a yard sale for $10. By the time I opened Can-Do Real Food the next summer I had learned some basics and was ready to plop more money down for the higher volume I would need to produce for the business. My family went in together and bought my first one as a Christmas present. Over the years the Excalibur machines have come down in price considerably and by watching sales, you can get one for under $300. The type of machine makes a difference for larger volume drying….the fan and temperature selection options can make a significant difference in the time needed. I found a timer was nice and I actually found the analog dial easier to use than the electronic models.

I purchased several books about dehydration but stopped needing to look for any more after I read the introduction to Dried and True by Sarah Dickerman. Not only did the intro provide a tip that would make my life easier, but the book also provides something I have not seen elsewhere: a chart that explains how to prep each kind of fruit or veggie or meat and how long it can take to dry and what it should feel like at that point to be safe. For someone who is self-learning without a mentor, a chart like that is SO much more helpful than the typical “dry until finished” in most other books.

So, what can you dry for later enjoyment??

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Fruit: Not only can you dry cut pieces of fruit for simple snacking, but you can also puree fruit and dry as leather for a fruit roll-up. You can season the fruit or leather with spices like cinnamon, or even add other fruits for a combined flavor, as I did when I made applesauce roll-ups with blueberries. Commercially prepared dried fruit usually has added sugar which is not needed. Like anything else you prepare at home, you can control the ingredients.

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Basil

Herbs and Greens: These have to be the fastest things to dry!! In a couple of hours, you can take fresh herbs from your garden and dry them for later use in the year when fresh herbs are no longer available. I have dried greens like kale for use in soups, spinach to add to a veggie or chip dip.

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Zucchini: okay…..you grew it and it has now overrun the garden. You heard about how prolifically squash plants produce but come on already!! Well, you can make zoodles for year-round gluten-free pasta substitute enjoyment. Shredded zucchini can be stored on shelves in the equivalent of the 2-cup measures you have been saving in your freezer for year-round zucchini bread. Free up that freezer space! I also developed several soup recipes with zucchini (and a canned marmalade….and that was a pleasant surprise).

Pumpkin Powder (FRX1178)
Pumpkin powder

Winter Squash: Pumpkin or squash puree can NOT be safely canned but it can be dehydrated so you can add liquid when you want to use it. Can-Do Real Food has a fantastic instant soup recipe with butternut squash and pumpkin that won best in Dehydrated Division at the State Fair in 2016. That recipe was developed from one submitted for inclusion in a community cookbook The Wild Ramp (Huntington, West Virginia) produced. So, while ingredient quantities have to be figured out carefully, whole-food recipes CAN be converted into dehydrated mixes.

REDUCING FOOD WASTE: The joy offered by the supermarket roasted chicken

Oh roast chicken: how many ways can we use you? Whether you buy it already roasted at the supermarket or grab a whole chicken there and roast it yourself at home, the zero waste person can get MULTIPLE meals out of one 3-pound bird.

Roast chickens at a Paris marche (open-air market)

First, roast chicken with roasted veggies. Set the oven for 350 degrees. If you have an uncooked chicken, clean it (yes, you really need to wash it) and then season it. That can be done simply with some dry herb mixture your family enjoys or even a liquid cooking sauce. Veggies should be cut into fairly similar sized pieces and also sprinkled with some seasoning. Roast for 45-60 minutes. There are many many many recipes online if you need more specific info to get started.

Second, trim all meat off the bones. Place meat in a sealed storage container in the frig (to use within 2 days) and prepare to make broth. You need a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add the bones to the pot. Cut up an onion. Wash and peel a couple of carrots and slice them in. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a slow simmer, covered, for two to five hours (YES! The longer the deeper the flavor!) Add washed and peeled small diced potatoes or pasta or rice, salt and pepper and other seasonings. Veggies will be cooked in another half hour and you have some soup to enjoy!

Third, those meat trimmings. Adding chopped onions for tang, green or red peppers for crunch, maybe walnuts if you are leaning towards something different, and then mayo or your favorite salad dressing for a salad or sandwich filling.

Does anyone have more suggestions???? Add them below in the comments.

Welcome to the World of Reducing Food Waste

Can-Do Real Food had its genesis about 6 summers ago when I worked as a farm laborer (yes, me!) for about eight weeks. It was hard work and I ate a lot of Advil those days. As I had helped establish a local indoor food market in West Virginia, other than some small gardens at home, I had never “farmed.” I am NOT a farmer. I am not even a good gardener. This is why I LOVE my farmers. Thank them every chance I have for producing food for me to eat.

My job then becomes important: how can I use these foods raised with such dedication and effort in all kinds of weather, how can I be careful not to waste any bit of this nutritional yumminess.

Let me help you with some daily tips. With all the other projects I have, I will limit it to short tips. Please add your own in the comments on the blog or on Facebook when it gets posted.

FREE SOUP: Some have called this “Depression Soup”, as the concept was taught to them from moms and grandmothers who lived through financially hard times. When you trim your produce for salads or for cooking, put all clean pieces into a container (I re-use and re-use and re-use a gallon ziplock) in the freezer. When the bag is full, pull out a dutch oven, fill with your veggie scraps and a potful of water. Simmer 1-2 hours for veggie stock and the basis for a flavorful soup.

(Then rinse the bag and let it air dry and re-use it with more veggies!)

I’m Fed Up and it’s NOT Because I Ate Too Much

About ten years ago something happened. I woke up.

I became aware that a lot of people were writing about the changes to our foods that had been going on since the mid 1990s and also about how some illnesses had also had a surge in diagnosis since that time.

The skeptic in me says coincidence does not necessarily show a cause. The cautious part of me decided I needed to prove it to myself.

Having read about how some of the genetically engineered foods kills insects that typically infiltrate plants like corn by causing their stomachs to rupture, I began to think how my daughter, born in 1994, started developing something like irritable bowel syndrome before she was 20 years old.  The doctor at the college health center recommended she have a colonoscopy which I wanted to schedule with my doctor when she spent the summer with me. He said, no, 19-year-olds should not need colonoscopies, and we made an appointment to talk with him. After hearing her symptoms and the history, he urged her to repopulate her stomach with probiotics and her symptoms eased. Smart man.

As I read more and more I decided we would switch to organic foods where we did not know a farmer who grew a specific food item. We decided to have a 6 month trial and surprise surprise, we have continued this practice for at least 4 years now.  When we follow our own rules, we feel better. But we generally do not recognize that until we travel and end up eating “regular” food. And then the uncomfortable issues start again.

A few months ago the Federal government approved chickens being sent to China to be butchered and then sent back to American markets. What with past issues with pet food and baby food, I am not comfortable with any of the food grown in the US going overseas for processing. Especially since the USDA eliminated the “country of origin” labeling also. Image result for chickens shipped to china for processing

Today I read that the milk industry has petitioned the FDA to CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF MILK to include aspartame. Their point is that it would not need to be on the label and sweet things would be “healthier” without sugar. (Oh, and since so many people are now aware of the ill effects of that artificial sweetener, the FDA has approved changing its name to “Amino Sweet”, so watch for that on your labels!)Image result for just label it

For those of us who prefer to know what is in our food, this is unacceptable. Personally, I really can not, nor do I want to, have a cow. (Pun intended) But it is getting to the point where the ONLY way to control what you are putting into your body is to source all your food from farmers you know.  Farmers who tell you their growing methods. Farmers who are more interested in health than becoming rich.

I really am impressed by ALL the farmers I know, whether they grow with organic practice or even if they grow conventionally. Farming is hard work. Yields are highly dependent on a huge unknown: the weather. And generally, farmers do not make much income. Long hours, low pay.

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And yet, most of the farmers I have met are passionate about what they do. They may be exhausted, but they have the drive to keep on growing food for us.

We are extremely fortunate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to have almost all our food needs met by local farmers. We need to go a bit farther for citrus and for sugar, but for the foods we personally eat and the foods prepared in the Kitchen of Can-Do Real Food, we support our local farmers as much as possible.

There are tons of diets that claim to offer a healthier body.   No one size fits all, but many can lead to better health.  But above all, start cooking from whole foods and leave the frozen foods with their high sodium and loads of preservatives at the store.  Not only will you discover what foods really tastes like, but you will feel proud that you can nourish yourself so deliciously.Image result for cook from scratch

Can-Do Real Food provides you preserved foods that have been made from local food raised on farms that are certified organic, bio-dynamic, or naturally grown or farms that grow in the organic style. Our only products that come from trees that have been sprayed are the hazelnut butters. Although new trees planted in the past year or so are a strain that is resistant to insect infestation, the mature trees must be treated or there would be no crop of nuts at all. All other produce used to prepare the recipes in the Can-Do Real Food kitchen are raised without any chemical treatment for insects or weeds.  You may opt not to buy our products, but it won’t be because of added chemicals.

Can-Do Real Food                                                                                                                                                                                      Preserving the Local Harvest                                                                                                                                                                                           No Artificial Anything!