Feb262012

35 Comments

INSTANT SURVIVAL TIP: Food Preserving – When to DIY and When to Buy

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Last week, I read a great comment from Nick:

How about dehydrating and storing vegetables yourself? It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to dehydrate stuff yourself than buying prepackaged dehydrated food.

I looked guiltily at my cans of freeze-dried and dehydrated corn, strawberries, and onions and thought, “Lisa!  You slacker!”   (I have this oldest child/perfectionist thing going on 24/7.)

Well, I began thinking about Nick’s comment, and it makes complete sense when you have a good supply of produce at a very low cost.  When I can harvest a bale of basil from my garden or purchase tomatoes at pennies per pound from a produce co-op, I love to dehydrate them.

Consider this, though.  I buy #10 cans of sliced, freeze-dried green onions from Honeyville Farms for $7.99.  How many fresh green onions would I need to dehydrate to fill, or nearly fill, a #10 can?  If I had a green onion farm, no problem, but when I usually buy them by the bundles at the market, Honeyville makes more sense than doing it myself.

So, this spring I’m planning to enlarge my backyard garden so that I will have more “free” fresh produce to dehydrate and can when harvest time comes.  The lesson here is to shop around, compare prices, and take into consideration your time, effort, and the expense when you decide to do it yourself.

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

(35) Readers Comments

  1. Excellent tip! I do buy freeze-dried strawberries because I like the flavor/texture of the commercial stuff better, but most everything else is home-dried!

    And make sure you watch end of the season farmers markets and sites like Freecycle; even if you can't grow your own fruit and veggies, you may be able to find very cheap/free produce for drying.

  2. HaHa, Lisa! I recently blogged about having an over-abundance of green in my garden and feeling a little guilty about not canning it! Truth is…if the Zombies attack, I'm going for the chocolate, not the canned turnips. I'm with you on the Honeyville freeze-dried stuff. The mushrooms are actually cheaper than buying them fresh, as are the raspberries. Yes, nerd alert, I did a cost-analysis. So we actually EAT the food storage and I periodically replenish when the items go on sale. Which, bless Honeyville's heart, happens often.

  3. I honestly think that is a good idea to periodically use the very same stuff that you would use in a survival situation.

  4. Oh, you've hit a sore spot of mine. I prefer to home can, dehydrate, dry, or generally make my own. But first buying then processing is often NOT the least expensive. It would take thousands of green onions to fill a #10 can once dried. I dehydrate white onions when I find them on sale. 5 lbs. does not fill a quart jar! 10 lbs. of dehydrated sliced potatoes loosely fills only 3 gallon zip-lock bags. A bushel basket of tomatoes sun dries down to 4 loosely filled bags. If you don't get a really dandy of a sale or grow your own, it's often cheaper to buy it done for you.

    You also need to consider what your time is worth. If you're in a very well paying job then daily heavy work in the garden, chopping, peeling, blanching, canning or drying just isn't cost effective. One hour of over time at the job will pay for a lot of dehydrated or canned food and save wear and tear on your back. If your money income is very short, or you have a lot of spare time on your hands, then doing it yourself is very worth your while.

    The primary place I object to buying #10 cans from a commercial business is dry staples. 6 or 7 dollars for a 6 lb. can of sugar is a big waste! You can buy 25 lbs. at Sams Club for $17, pour it into gallon zip-locks, pop those into a Rubber Maid tub, and it's good forever. If it gets lumpy from humidity, smack it with a hammer. Salt is even cheaper bought in bulk bags. (Just remember to label everything! You wouldn't want to mix up salt and sugar.) Similar can be done with spices, macaroni, flour, etc. It all just needs to be used and replaced to keep it fresh.

    • Not a very timely response, but :-) … I agree with about 90% of what you said. Where we differ is as it regards the '… heavy work of garden ……. canning or drying just isn't cost effective." Not disagreeing with the cost-effective part, but suggest that *learning* [by doing] the skills of growing food and preserving it by various means is similar to the cliche of giving a fish vs. teaching the person to fish.

      If/when the SHTF and last a while, I sure want to be one of those who have the "how to" knowledge about a lot of different things … and have set aside the items to implement (seeds, canning jars or dehydrator, plumbers wrench, etc., etc.)

      Cheers
      J

  5. As basic as it sounds, THIS is the kind of information that is crucial to those of us just starting this journey. Thank you so much, to you and your commenters, for being so willing to share. What a terrific group.

  6. Excellent point. My MIL told me one day that she'll never can again because produce from the store is too expensive. I looked at her, a little surprised, and was like "Well, yeah. If I had to pay store prices, I wouldn't do it either."

  7. I haven't purchased any freeze-dried foods yet primarily because everything seems to come in #10 cans and there are just two of us. Granted we may have to take in famiy members if something were to happen but I don't want to purchase a lot of #10 cans and then have that food go to waste if it is just the 2 of us because we can't use it before it goes bad. Generally speaking, can you reseal those cans or is it reasonable to assume that we could use up the food in a #10 can before it goes bad? Any suggestions?

    • I never thought about this problem, but what about dividing it up and use the “food savers” that vacuum pack in heat sealed pouches?

  8. Almost all of that freeze dried food, once opened, is good for a year just sitting on the shelf in the covered can. The primary culprit to considering it "bad" is dust. Even with a lid on the can your dried carrots will taste dusty after that. A lot of people don't use up things like carrots very fast, but putting the extras into zip-lock bags and keeping it in the freezer is a good solution.
    But if you're expecting loved ones to join you if crisis strikes, go ahead and buy the #10 cans for that possibility, and don't use it now. Carrots, for example, are one of the many things good for 20 yrs. Use something else for now, and donate those unused cans in 17 to 20 yrs to a family that will use them up, or a food bank.

    • Also, once a can is opened, beware of humidity. I have freeze-dried grapes and pineapple that became sticky from some humid weather we had last summer.

    • Thanks! This helped me to make the jump to freeze dried food purchasing. I'll start checking into prices and get my next level of food storage started! ;)

      • Shelf Reliance has many of their foods available in a 'pantry' sized can (about the size of a large pork and beans can). They are a bit more expensive per serving this way, but if you're afraid of wasting the rest of it, this might be a good option. Also, you can get a #10 can of something and then use a vacuum sealer like Seal-a-meal to divide up into smaller portions. This will protect from humidity and dust, but not from light deterioration, so store in a dark cool place. Click on the Shelf Reliance ad for access to discounted pricing since you're shopping around!

  9. I dehydrate ALOT of food from my garden each year. Onions, bell pepper, tomatoes, potatoes are things I use alot of, so I grow as many as I can each year. I also dehydrate enough herbs to get us from season to season. I package them in usable sizes. A #10 can of bell pepper might go bad once opened. So I package my bell peppers in mason jars with oxygen absorbers. I store them in the back of my pantry until needed. Then I can pull out one jar at a time and I know it won't go bad. For long term storage I package foods in 1/2 gallon or 1 gallon mylar bags. For herbs, onions, carrots, etc, I package them in 1/2 gallon mylar bags. For larger items like tomatoes and potatoes, I package those in 1 gallon mylar.

    Alot of knowing what to do is trial and error. Its taken me awhile to figure out what works best for our family. I am constantly adjusting how I do things.

    • Jan,
      Thank you for the great tips. I've recently started to experiment with dehydrating food from my first ever garden. You are not kidding when you say it involves a lot of trial and error, lol!
      My spices are turning out well but I have not been very successful with my potatoes. Would you mind sharing how you process those?

      • Blanch before drying. This is best done in a big pot with strainer (spaghetti pot) peel your potatoes and place in water, I do 5lbs at a time. Slice, put in the strainer of your pot, submerge in boiling water for 5 to 6 minutes, I am at a high altitude and do 7 to 8 minutes. Remove and rinse with cold water to cool the product and stop cooking process. You are now ready to dehydrate.

  10. I am the same way…I only dehydrate when it is truly worth the time and effort. I only can in big canning parties where we get together and make huge quantities of jam and apple butter, everything else I prefer dehydrated, even tomatoe sauce, which I make by dehydrating tomatoe and herb paste. So good and so easy! But anyway, I wanted to add that one really great way to use your dehydrator is with frozen food! I keep an eye out for sales and can often get frozen veggies for 20-50 cents a pound. They go right in the dehydrator, no preparation needed! This is especially useful for things that take a LOT or up front work, either in the growing or the preparing for preservation like corn and sweet potatoes.

    • Would you please tell me how you make your tomatoe and herb paste and then dehydrate it? Thank you!

  11. I love drying my items myself. I think just because I like the idea that I am doing it. I have been trying to do something every single day. Today I have some peaches in my food dehydrator.

  12. I fully agree with all said about preserving at home, but what about Food Safety precautions? Nobody has mentioned the food spoilage bacterias and how to get rid of them. Salmonella and botulism are both deadly bugs that can cause terrible illness, and in the case of botulism – death.

    • I'm sure no expert! but I honestly can't think of anyone I know (or read any articles about) who preserves their own *home grown* produce who has had a problem like that.

      Sure, there is the occasional time when a jar doesn't seal correctly, but that's noticeable as they cool and can be corrected … or simply tucked in the fridge to use up.

      Whether it's veggies or meat, I'm pretty sure all the accidents and recalls due to bacteria that's been reported by the news has involved large, commercial operations.

  13. Yes, I have reconstituted and eaten All the of things I've dehydrated. I package the meats out seperately, but make up meals for camping & hiking: Mac-cheese & stewed tomatoes, crab chowder, shrimp or mixed seafood with pasta and red sauce, chile con carne, lentil soup with veg, jambalaya, chicken stew, rice pilafs, etc. I like variety — mix & match a protein, a carb (a whole grain like barley, rice, pasta — yes, all cooked & dehydrated — grits, cream of wheat, oatmeal, and vegetables…. and a fat to help carry the flavor and add calories, either butter powder in the mix, or olive oil carried seperately or in the little individual packets packaged in with the meal.

    (more ahead)

  14. The imitation crab I get the chunk kind, as opposed to strips, and cut it into, I dunno, 1/2" – 3/4" dice. The shrimp, cut in about 3rds, about to 3/4 inch, although I have done some whole, to rehydrate and skewer with rehydrated pineapple chunks, etc & hold over a flame for a bit — they're already cooked, just heat, sautee, serve over rice, whatever. They're also kind of good as kind of a shrimp-jerky-bite — crunchy!

    I store the packaged meals, and the dehydrated ingredients in a second refrigerator freezer. (Yes, I consider it a great luxury!) The packaged meals get vacuum-sealed.

    While I've been inventive putting together meals for my own tastes, I didn't 'Invent' most of this, but learned from what Mountain House makes, from experience camping, from sharing stpries with other campers & hikers and what they've done, etc.. And now there are a ton of websites on making your own camping food, too.

  15. great tips! I also take into consideration my toddler. MY dehydrated strawberries look kinda sad but the freeze dried ones are really pretty and she is delighted to eat THOSE!

  16. I wish I had read Square Foot Gardening before I built my greenhouse. It shows you how to grow 80 percent more veggies in the same area. It is an essential tool to preparation.

  17. The #10 cans of freeze dried ingredients seem large for a couple, I agree. But the contents are given a few weeks minimum to be used, and I've found that they go a lot longer than that, especially if you place them into a Rubbermaid food storage container with an air tight lid. I did a test with the spaghetti with meat sauce entree. After 5 months, it still reconstituted well enough to be palatable…. Rubbermaid, or some equivalent, is your friend!

  18. I usually end up dehydrating fruits and/or veggies a little at a time. I've got some cherry tomatos and some mushrooms in my dehydrator right now, because we basically bought more than we could use in a reasonable amount of time. Every little bit adds up.

  19. How long can you store dehydrated food. I was checking one site that said you should eat it season by season.

    • DIY dehydrated food will not have the same shelf life as commercially dehydrated food. I would say that 2 years shelf life for home dried would be pushing it.

  20. I was wondering, when you mentioned dried green onions, if the 10# can is actually "full." The ounces seem sooo slight I wonder, even if it's dry, how a truly full can can weigh so little.

    • Yes, the can is full. There will be maybe less than an inch of headroom, and yes, they are very lightweight!!

  21. My dehydrator stays on just about every day. I do buy loys of fruits and veggies from the frozen food section. I dehydrate vacuum seal with an oxygen absorber and stored in a cool dark room in bins. I don’t have fruit trees or have the ability to grow corn in my garden it depletes the soil faster and has to have much space those things are cheaper for me to buy than grow. I take advantage of farmers markets during growing season and add to what I did not gro

  22. PatTheCat how do you dehydrated mac and cheese, stewed tomatoes, and soups?

  23. I am also interested in how to dehydrate mac and cheese, stewed tomatoes, and soups? And pasta suace.
    Thanks

  24. This is a little late to the table, but I have a method of storing food such as dehydrated fruits and vegetables, nuts, spices, teas, flour, sugar, etc. in mason jars. This would be perfect for storing food after you open the #10 cans. Our local paper ran an article last week on my method. This is similar to vacuum sealing mason jars with the Foodsaver machine. However, I have found a pump for $4.25 that does the same thing. Ever since I saw a video on YouTube by Wendy DeWitt on food storage and vacuum sealing, I was hooked. Been doing this for over a year now. It’s so effective. It will definitely increase the life of your food storage. Best of all, I found a way to use other jars like pickle, spaghetti, and jelly jars, too. Even people who don’t have a lot of money to store food should find this very economical and doable.

    Here is a link to the article which explains my method and many tips and tricks:
    http://www.sedaliademocrat.com/articles/tips-42565-georgetown-vicki.html

    Hope this helps others in their food storage journey. Happy vacuum sealing, everyone!

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