Conversion Options in Preserving: Dehydrating Favorite Recipes

Now that I am “officially” retired I have joined several groups on Facebook that discuss various ways to preserve food. I started following two groups on freeze drying after working on a recipe to convert our popular canned Loaded Pasta Sauce into a dry version for the backcountry enthusiasts in my family. The stories in the Facebook group were somewhat amusing (many people purchase a freeze dryer because the concept of freeze-dried candy is exciting) to cautionary (issues with the seal and the oil and…..). I decided the expense, considerably north of my budget, was not worth the issues I read.

However, each time I make the dehydrated Loaded Paste Sauce, I reconsider, because converting a whole foods recipe to a dehydrated one takes time.

There seem to be two basic ways to achieve a dehydrated recipe for a prepared dish, not just an individual ingredient: ONE: Dry each ingredient and assemble or TWO: Mix the ingredients and then dehydrate.

Since so many people have jumped on to the home grown/home preserved bandwagon this year, I want to welcome you and offer a few tips I have picked up along the way. I want to say that there are tons of people who have been preserving years longer than me with a long heritage guided in the kitchen by their family. Listen to them, too. They have answers to problems I have not yet experienced. LOL

My first best advice is to develop dry meal recipes you enjoy as whole foods. I see a lot of questions on the dehydration Facebook groups asking what meal they should prepare. Knowing someone has a recipe that turns out successfully is a good start, but a meal you know you enjoy is a better start!

I am very proud that one journey into a recipe conversion ended with a BEST in Dehydrated Division at the Oregon State Fair, so while you may not like the ingredients, consider the technique for your favorite recipe.

Before moving to Oregon I helped establish a year-round local food market, The Wild Ramp in Huntington, West Virginia. As part of a crowd-sourced fundraiser, we offered a prize for a significant gift: a Wild Ramp cookbook. It took a couple of months, but I edited an amazing cookbook with whole food recipes submitted by about 50 people in that community as well as chefs I knew elsewhere, including several here in Oregon.

One woman submitted a recipe for a Pumpkin Coconut Curry Soup. When I made the recipe up for the family, I was blown away by its ease of prep and complex flavor mingling. It became a family favorite.

Preserving The Local Harvest

Flash forward and here I am in Oregon, Can-Doing instead of Wild-Ramping, and I am given a ton (seemed like) of surplus winter squash and various pumpkins by my partner farms. Pumpkin puree can not be safely canned, and I sincerely doubted that people would buy canned cubed pumpkin to blend themselves, so knew I could not use a canning technique to reduce that food “waste”.

Anyone who has cut open a pumpkin or squash for roasting knows that some are stringy and some are creamy. For a smooth pie….and a smooth instant soup….the creamier varieties of squash and pumpkin are needed.

I found butternut squash was the one I chose first. Acorn squash works well but is just a tad harder to clear out of the shells, and that little amount of work decided it for me. If you have a surplus of acorn squash and more than no patience, it is a good option.

I’ve used all kinds of pumpkin, including the pie pumpkins in the huge boxes in front of the supermarket for 45-15 cents a pound (the closer to Halloween you can wait……..) but do not recommend the humongous ones sold for jack-o-lanterns. Those are mostly open cavity with a thin layer of stringy meat. Like any other recipe, buy what you can afford because quality can make a difference to the mouthfeel. This year I was deeply pleased with two heirlooms from a couple of my local farmers. When I roasted them, they slid off the skins very easily using a soup spoon to scrape the meat like a pudding.

Galeux D'eysines Squash Seeds
Galeux D’eysines reaches weights between 10-20 pounds and looked like it was kissed by a frog, but it makes the most velvety smooth sauces.
Black Futsu squash
The Black Futsu squash starts very dark and then matures with a bloom that almost looks like a gray mold also cooked creamy and cleaned so easily from the skin with a soup spoon.

Okay, now the rest of the ingredients. Obviously, the curry powder can be purchased hot or sweet (your preference). The onion and garlic are readily available dried as powder. Since the recipe ends up being powdered, this is personal preference. You can dehydrate your own garlic and onions and powder them, or use commercially prepared ingredients.

There are many coconut milk powders available online.

While cans of coconut milk are readily available in most supermarkets with Asian sections, this is not the way to go if you plan to dehydrate this recipe. This is the expensive ingredient in this recipe, so I decided not to try to modify this myself and found dried coconut milk products online. The first time I purchased the product, it had tiny flecks of coconut in it. The second time I purchased it, they had removed the coconut flakes. I liked it and so I added coconut to the recipe……that is an optional item. If you want 100% smooth texture, skip adding the coconut itself and just use the milk.

Finally, the broth. You have two options. ONE: When making up a family-size soup, you can prepare the soup mix with personally canned or store purchased broth. TWO: Use powdered bouillion in the dry mix and then add water in the final preparation prior to eating. (I have salt restrictions in my diet so I have to watch that kind of commercial product. I found adding a culinary yeast with flavor notes I desired provided the ease to final prep I wanted. )

I opted for the dry flavoring (culinary yeast for me instead of dry bouillion) so I could package my soup mix for single-serving use to be very easy. It literally takes only the time to boil some water and then 3 minutes to rehydrate before you can eat this soup!!

CONVERSION time. You have to figure recipe ingredient quantities. Obviously, a cup of milk you pour out of the bottle is not the same volume as a cup of milk powder. You know this without thinking, but to make the recipe work, the math HAS to be done. Yeah for calculators!!! Bigger YEAH for a book that already did the calculation!! This book, Rehydration Calculations Made Easy has sections in both US measurements and metric measurements and provides comparable measurements for whole foods, dehydrated and freeze-dried.

And then the magic happens and on page 18, there is exactly what we need!!

We’re not completely done, though. The original recipe calls for 2 cups of roasted squash…..and all that recipe tells you to do to prepare the squash is to cut it open and roast it. Not all recipes give complete instructions and this is an example of how you, as the experienced cook, figure it out. The whole recipe talks about using a belnder or immersion blender to make the soup smooth. Let’s start with that concept and assume 2 cups of puree.

The instructions and our calculator helps us help us here. The recipe calls for 2 cups of puree for the soup. Basic elementary math leads us to 0.33 cup of powder.

Working the math helps us do the complete recipe conversion.

If you want help with a recipe conversion, holler. I mastered it, you can!!!

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??

Image result for fresh and dehydrated apples compared

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.

Image result for equivalent dried herbs to fresh
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.

Image result for dried zoodles

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.

Juggle Juggle, but don’t drop the Tomatoes

In my weekly market reports recently I’ve been mentioning that we seem to be at the peak of the harvest. How can I tell? Simply, when I walk down Cowls Street as the farmers’ market is setting up I am amazed at the overflowing bins of produce the farmers haul there. Tomatoes of all kinds, peppers both sweet and hot, potatoes large and small, sweet corn, summer squash glowing green white and yellow, winter squash in acorn and spaghetti models, strawberries from everbearing varieties, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, apples, and on and on and on.

In the past week in the Can-Do kitchen we handled 50 pounds of blueberries, 40 pounds of Asian pears, 30 pounds of tomatoes, 30 pounds of prune plums, and still have about 100 pound of onions to deal with. Today we were gifted about 20 pounds of peaches and the day is only half over.

asian pears in dyrerI keep our dehydrators running almost all the time now. The Asian pears are in there as I write this (plain and cinnamon) and the peaches will go in next. (Onions after that probably)

Mike, the guy who owns Cream ice cream and I have a good time chatting flavor combinations each week at the market. When I told him I was getting this gift of peaches (more coming this next week that are already planned for 2 types of jams) he suggested something which fed a need of his: powdered peaches he could add to ice cream in the winter.  So we will chop the peaches and then dehydrate it, powdering some, leaving some small chunks.  Mike can get some for his ice cream and you can get some for your yogurt or baking or other yumminess you like to do.

carmelized onionsThe onions……oh my. We add onions to our Loaded Pasta Sauce, so some will be used on Monday when we prepare that.  But I’ve made a few very small batches of caramelized onions for our home kitchen and one friend’s and I suppose you might be able to enjoy after I get some of these 100 pounds cooked up and then dehydrated.

 

So, you might ask, why was that “one friend” so lucky as to gain some caramelized onions?  Well, she presented me with some extra onions she had.  That’s pretty much all it takes and now she tells people she has her own “food processor.” One person responded, “oh yeah, I have one of those chopping machines too,” but you know it’s a tad more involved than that.

Anyway, lots to share with you. If you want to know if I can make something, shoot me an email at BethRankinOR@gmail.com. If there’s a safe way to preserve it, I’ll let you know.

tomatoes

Also, if you want Loaded Pasta Sauce, let me know how many and in pints or quarts. This has been a funny tomato season. It started late (really only about 3 weeks ago) and looks to be ending early. So I probably will not be getting a lot of tomatoes. Right now I have orders for 40 quarts so they will be fulfilled first. If you want some, tell me now. In a few weeks it will be too late.

 

 

Which Diet?

Recently we had a friend living with us who has diabetes and it made me realize how fragile our systems are when we stray into areas where we react or don’t deal with certain items that are available to eat.  I thought it is time to mention that Can-Do Real Food fits into any number of diets.

Preservative Free

Can-Do Real Food has a couple of tag lines and the one that will help you relax is “Nothing artificial added”. What preserves our food from spoilage is the sugar in the jelly recipes and the low pH (using lemon juice or cider apple vinegar) in our savory canned recipes. The dehydrated foods are dried either to a “bend” (like the fruit roll-ups) or a “snap” (used to powder the item for easy mixes and quick rehydration.

Because we don’t add preservatives, our foods are safe to eat but will taste best if eaten within the time frame indicated on the label. Canned goods are “best by” 13 months after preparing. Dehydrated foods are presented in bags that are rated for five years but I have noticed that some fruit roll-ups prepared over a year ago taste fine but feel dryer.   I use “best by” dates instead of “use by” or “good until” because the food is perfectly safe to eat afterwards, but again, the best taste or texture diminishes over time.

Image result for preservative free food logo

Low Carb

Whether it is South Beach (the diet we followed while our friend was staying with us) or some other low carbohydrate diet, Can-Do Real Food fits in. Some foods that are vegetable based are without any doubt, allowed. Others, like the fruit snacks, need to be eaten with moderation.

 

Salt Free

We add no salt to any of our canned recipes. In fact, the decision to do that had an interesting side effect when we resubmitted our best selling canned Loaded Pasta Sauce for food processing approval the second year. We added zucchini to the mix (after all, we deal in farmer surplus and anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows how much of a surplus a plant produces) but we also removed the sugar and salt from the recipe. The original recipe had been given to us by a chef and we realized he might have been working with  the kinds of tomatoes that you find in supermarkets in the winter…picked under-ripe to red up during travel, the sugar in the recipe helps with the subdued flavor, as does the salt.  A few customers complained the pasta sauce was not as good but once we suggested they add salt to taste, they once again were happy.   “Add salt to taste” is now on that label.Image result for salt free foods

As we have developed the dehydrated Pasta Sauce, even I realized it has to have salt for better flavor.   Chatting with our backpacking experts made us aware how much salt people doing intense exercise need, so we are adding salt to the dehydrated mix.  If you are on a salt-free diet, do not eat this product.

 

Vegetarian/Vegan

 

We can assure everyone that there is no meat, no eggs, and no dairy in our products. First of all, we do not have a license to work with meat. To add a chicken flavor to our dehydrated Tortilla Soup or beef flavor to our dehydrated Hearty Borscht soup we use culinary yeasts with those flavor profiles. Culinary yeast is an ingredient that is usually marked as “natural flavorings” on labels. Our labels will tell you “culinary yeast”. Image result for vegetarian logo

The ONLY exception (and we’re not sure it will be offered this year) is our popcorn flavoring mix because that has included dehydrated butter or cheese when we made it in the past. It sold well, so we want to make it again, but currently not available.

 

Gluten Free

We’re not a bakery so this is pretty easy. The ONLY recipe that has been altered to stay gluten free is the dehydrated Tortilla Soup where we provide a small snack size baggie of corn tortilla chips to break into the hot prepared soup.

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GMO Free

As mentioned right above, we use corn chips instead of flour tortillas in the Tortilla Soup mix. We use only organic tortilla chips.  In addition, one of our farm partners, Bethel Springs Farm, is certified organic and everyone else we purchase surplus produce from grows in the organic style with no conventional spraying or GMO seeds. Image result for gmo free logo

Kosher/Halel

No, we’re not certified kosher or halel, but neither do we include any restricted ingredients in any of our foods. Not having a license to process meat, we stick to fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts in our kitchen.  So, you’re level of comfort with this category depends on how strict you observe the religious dietary rules.

 

If you have any questions about any ingredients, please contact me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com or message me on our Facebook page.

The Wild Ones

My husband Graham (Vice President of Research and Development) loves wine. He jokes that the reason we moved to McMinnville was because he heard there was a winery nearby.  Now that we’ve been here six years he easily admits how much he has enjoyed visiting and sampling the amazing depth and breadth of the wines offered locally. (I’m the designated driver!)

Graham is also quite devoted to Facebook and has friended many of the local wineries to stay aware of special events. We’ve recently attended free performances and concerts at several near McMinnville.

Image result for eieio winesA few years ago he told me that the owner of EIEIO Winery (a man named McDonald, of course) had posted that his property had a lot of plum trees that had not been cared for and the trees were loaded loaded loaded with ripe fruit. He had purchased the property where his house is located several years before and perhaps for 10 years prior to that the plum trees surrounding the inside of a paddock had been neglected. The plums were very small but very sweet. Anyone who wanted them was invited to contact him and arrange a time to glean.IMG_4920

There were yellow plums. There were red ones. And purple ones. It was an amazing rainbow. We tasted and discovered two things. 1: Yes, they were deliciously sweet. 2: They were cling, not freestone. (We  are masters of handling fruits that cling to stones now!)

We got them to the commercial kitchen and into the huge walk-in cooler for the processing the next day. I then went to the post office to send a package and met the owner of Third Street Oil and Vinegar. She presents olive oil and balsamic vinegar infused with flavors and has an amazing talent for taste combinations that work. She tasted the plums and suggested a balsamic vinegar infused with pomegranate. pom balsamic vin bench

The next day I made the most perfect jelly. It was my first year in business so I was very proud how it set up and looked so pretty with its deep reddish purple tone.  And the taste was great! Sweet and tangy.

Well, we have not been back to EIEIO since then but a friend has been bringing me the wild plums off a tree on her property these past few weeks and I decided to see if we could present the same wonderful tangy sweetness as a fruit leather.  And voila! It has been done!Pom Plum fruit leather

Ingredients are wild plums, a tiny bit of cane sugar and a splash of pomegranate balsamic vinegar. Packaged 4 roll-ups to a bag, selling for $5.  No artificial anything and I bet you will not find anything like this anywhere else.