I wanted to use some chives in this week’s backpacking pad thai and some apple chips and orange peel in my oatmeal (check out the recipes here), so I thought this might be a good time to talk a little bit about how useful a dehydrator is for backpackers. Some people will prepare then dehydrate entire meals, and then rehydrate them on the trail. I used to do this frequently, but as the preparation for hiking has gotten so much more complicated when I have to make special considerations for a two year old, I have opted more often to use my dehydrator simply for snacks and little flavorful extras that I add to pre-packaged meals.
I use a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator that has both a heat element and a fan. It comes with four trays. I bought extra trays for big projects, as well as a number of different liners. The most useful liner for backpackers is one that you use to make fruit-roll ups, which allows you to dehydrate wet, liquid-y substances. I also have a few plastic mesh liners that work well for fruits and vegetables.
My chives and basil were both looking overgrown this week, so I did a major prune on each of them, washed the herbs, pulled the leaves off the stem, then put them in my dehydrator.
The basil filled up two trays and the chives one. I use special liners that make clean up extra easy. I set the temperature of my dehydrator for 95 degrees and let it go for about 12 hours. After they were dry, I crunched them up, and put them into small tupperware containers.
While I was at it, I sliced up an apple and a few mandarin oranges to dehydrate for trail mix and breakfast on the trail. To prepare them, I core the apple, then slice it into thin rings, and layer them on the dehydrator tray without overlapping.
Some people will soak the slices in salt water or lemon juice to keep them from browning, but I’ve never minded them getting a little tan. I’ve seen apple slices with the skin removed, but that is too much work for me, and the skin adds a nice chewy crunchy texture to the chips. Other people will dust their slices with cinnamon or even sugar, but I like them plain and simple.
For the oranges, I cut the ends off, then slice them as thin as possible, getting about four or five slices out of each little orange. I left the skin on them — you can eat it if you don’t mind the slight bitter flavor, or eat around it and save the peels for cooking, which is what I do. I put the ends with the most skin left on them in a separate dehydrator tray, and will use the dehydrated skins in cooking (dehydrated orange peels are amazing when added to balsamic reductions and add lovely flavor to ice water).
Normally for fruit and vegetables I would set my dehydrator’s temperature to 135 degrees, not 95 degrees, but I wanted to do my herbs and fruit at the same time. The fruits actually did really well at the lower temperature.
I have found that it is difficult to say how long to let the dehydrator go with any certainty. Sometimes it is as little as four or five hours, others products have taken up to twelve hours. There are a lot of factors that can influence the length of time, ranging from the amount of humidity in the air, to how wet the product is that you are dehydrating, to how thin you sliced the product, etc. I stick near the dehydrator while I’m using so I can check it periodically throughout the drying cycle.
Some of my favorite things to put in the dehydrator for snacks are: sliced bananas, tomatoes (homemade “sundried tomatoes”), mango (it’s like candy), and strawberries. As frequent Costco shoppers who buy a lot of produce in bulk, I’ve found that the dehydrator is one of the best purchases we’ve made.
Check out this post to see what I do with my dehydrated herbs and fruits!