Dehydrating Your Own Survival Foods
Drying foods is one of the oldest methods of food preservation known to man. With the invention of refrigerators, freezers, and home canning, dehydration has declined in homes. Most modern day people who dehydrate foods for storage use electric appliances rather than the free methods that our forefathers used. I’m talking about the sun and fire…both perfectly good sources of heat for removing moisture from foods to make them last in storage, and helps create a more self sufficient food supply, as you are able to stretch how long it lasts.
During the summer our food sources are varied and bountiful. Greens are free for the picking, fruits grow wild on trees and bushes, and gardeners have more veggies than they can use. Canning, freezing, pickling, and root cellaring are all great methods of preserving the harvest. But what if you don’t have electricity? You may still be able to can food as I discuss in Canning Food without Electricity. Root cellaring is a very low maintenance way to store some crops. If you have vinegar or salt you could pickle some of the harvest. However, for long term storage of a variety of different foods, dehydration may be your best bet.
Drying removes most of the moisture from foods, making it resistant to spoilage, lightweight, nutrient dense and easy to store. A Bug Out Bag full of dried fruits, veggies, and meats will provide the survivor with most of the food they need for extended treks in the wilderness. Small bug out cabins that are short on storage space can still fit an array of dried meals to get through the lean days of winter.
Dehydrating foods removes some of the water soluble vitamins, but retains the fiber, calories, minerals, and many vitamins. Natural sugars in fruits are concentrated for a boost of energy necessary for survival situations. Dried meats and fish are rich in protein and minerals. Having these nutritious foods on hand just might get survivors through the winter when other foods are hard to come by.
No Electricity? No problem!
Drying foods with an electric dehydrator is simple. If the grid goes down you will need to know how to dry your foods using the sun and/or fire as a source of warm, dry air for dehydrating your food. If you live in an arid part of the world, drying food will be fairly easy. Hang thin slices of fruits and vegetables or arrange them on a screen in full sun during the day and cover them at night to keep the dew off them. Or you could go hog wild and build one of these 3 solar food dehydrators. Unless it’s really hot and dry, you still need to dry meats over a fire to keep flies from laying their eggs on the meat. If you live in a rainy climate or in the north, where the heat from the sun may not be reliable enough, you may need fire to dry your foods. Either way, you need to slice the foods into thin pieces and place them in a current of warm dry air that will remove moisture without cooking the foods. Too much heat will dry the exterior of the food too quickly, trapping moisture inside the food.
If you are lucky enough to have a few old windows lying around, you could lay your foods out on screens in full sun and cover with old windows on the south side at a slant. This will prevent birds from eating or defecating on your precious stores, will build up warmth, and the slant will allow condensation to run down the window rather than drip back onto the food.
Easiest and Most Difficult Foods to Dry
- Herbs and Greens: The easiest foods to dry are herbs and green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, dandelion greens and the like. They don’t need to be sliced up for uniform dehydration, they dry quickly, and many of them provide important minerals for our diet. Most herbs can be tied in small bunches to hang in a dark, dry spot. After a few days, check the herbs by crushing a few leaves between your fingers. If they crumble easily, they’re ready to store. Remove from stems and store in plastic bags, glass jars, or paper bags in a cool, dry place. Leafy greens will dry best spread out in thin layers on screens. When they are dry enough to crumble, store them the same way as herbs. Herbs and greens will add welcome flavors and nutrition to your soups and stews.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Drying fruits and vegetables requires a bit more preparation and drying time than greens. They must be sliced thin or chopped into small pieces for thorough dehydration. Blueberries, serviceberries, and other small fruits should be punctured to allow moisture to escape. Cherries can be cut in half and pitted, but larger fruits should be cut smaller, allowing the moisture to evaporate more quickly. Green beans, peas, beets, carrots, and the like can also be dehydrated. Cut into small pieces and spread in a single layer on a screen in the sun or over a low fire until completely dry.
- Meats and Fish: These are the most challenging foods to dry. Care must be taken to slice these foods as thinly as possible and keep them in a constant source of warm, dry air. Salting them first will aid in preservation, if you have the salt to spare. Most modern techniques of dehydrating meat and fish call for preservatives such as nitrates. In a survival situation you are unlikely to have them on hand. One natural source of nitrates for curing meats is ground celery seed. You’re probably not going to have that on hand either, so prepare your meat and fish carefully for best results. Remove all fat from the meat and use low fat fish for longest storage. Fat will go rancid much faster than meat. Salt or season and hang over a low fire. When your meat and fish is brittle it is ready to store. It will keep for a few weeks without refrigeration, but if you can keep it in a cold storage room, it will last for most of the winter.
How Do I Store Dried Foods?
For best keeping qualities, remove as much moisture from your foods as possible. When you buy dried foods from the store, they often have some moisture left in them and will keep well because they are also preserved with sulfites. In a survival situation, you will need to dry foods to the point that they are crispy, leathery, and hard to chew. You can rehydrate the food just before eating.
Store your dried foods in plastic bags or glass mason jars with metal or Tattler canning lids screwed on tight. If you have Co2 absorbers, use them. I like to save up the little packets of silica gel that come in shoe boxes. I’ll drop one or two of them in a jar with my dried foods to soak up any moisture that might get in. (Make sure you don’t accidentally add them to your soup.)
Keep your dried food in a dark, dry place with the coolest temperatures you can manage. If you don’t have refrigeration, you can set up a cold storage room on the side of your cabin or house. An unheated room will also work. The colder and dryer your storage area, the longer the food will last. Light will cause vitamins to break down, so keep it dark.
Set Yourself Up For Success In A Survival Situation
The more methods you learn for finding, growing, and preserving food, the better off you will be. During the abundant season you may be tempted to lay back and enjoy the sun on your face, but this is the time to prepare for the cold months ahead. Use a variety of storage and preservation techniques to increase your chances of success. Drying is just one method for storing food, and it’s a dang good one.
Eating dried foods won’t provide you with as many vitamins as fresh fruits and vegetables, but much of the nutrition will be retained if they are dried and stored properly. This method of preserving food will provide you with a stash of lightweight, nutrient dense foods that can be kept for a long time without refrigeration. And if we are faced with a real SHTF situation in our world someday, these foods could mean the difference between life and death.