Cooking,  Freeze Drying,  Our Adventures,  Sandy

20 things I tried to freeze dry my first month

I’ve been preserving food in the freeze dryer for a month now.  With my medium Harvest right freeze dryer and premier pump, I’m getting close to having to replace the oil, but it’s not actually cloudy yet, so I’ve held off.  I’ve had a couple of big wins, but also a few things that haven’t gone so well.  Here’s my list of foods that I’ve preserved for long term storage; and a few that never made it into packages, since they just got eaten too fast.

1.      Bread

This is the “gateway drug” for freeze drying because Harvest Right suggest that your first batch in a new freeze dryer should be a loaf of bread so that you can get any machine/oil smells out of your machine.  You can see the video where I took out my first bread batch below.  I was impressed by the dried bread and I think this might be my go-to for whenever I need breadcrumbs or croutons.  Especially when it comes to croutons, I sometimes find they’re too hard and they tear the roof of my mouth, but freeze dried bread has a softer texture.

2.      Carrots

Light as air, it was when I tasted the carrots that I realised that foods would have a more intense taste when freeze dried because there isn’t any water to “water it down.”  The texture of the freeze dried carrots was a lot of fun.  I made a video of me eating a carrot from my first freeze dried batch here.

Freeze dried carrots have a really unique texture.

3.      Mushrooms

Another item of produce that is often discounted at our local grocery store.  And, my first batch were already sliced, and just had to be spread out on the trays.  We stored these in jars to use in soups and stews over the next year.

Discounted sliced mushrooms ready to have a long shelf-life

4.      Cooked, diced chicken

Dad found a bunch of chicken thighs and legs on sale.  He cooked them all up and we deboned the pieces, diced up the meat, and packaged it.  All we need now is a green veg and we’ll have all the ingredients for freeze dried chicken soup, or chicken pot pie.

5.      Pork stew

When I got the freeze dryer, my goal was to pack away all the great meals that my Dad is so good at making so my sister and I will have them long after he goes.  This pork stew was my first such attempt, and it turned out great.  I simply ladled the stew onto parchment-lined trays from the leftovers and put it into the freeze dryer.  I didn’t bother to pre-freeze.

I packaged it as two portions per mylar bag and can’t wait to add two cups of boiling water to rehydrate it in years to come.

6.      Pulled pork

On the same day that Dad made the stew, he also made a batch of pulled pork.  He had a large pork tenderloin in the back of the fridge that needed to be cooked up and the pulled pork was excellent. Here’s an individual serving that just needs a bun.

Little mylar bags are perfect for individual servings

7.      Green beans

We had a bunch of frozen French-cut green beans and since I had a spare tray the day I was doing a vanilla yogurt batch, I decided to throw these in, too.  Our freezer is still pretty full, but this was a nice success so I’ll likely do other frozen veg before long, too.

8.      Dill pickles

Okay, I admit, I only did these because I wanted the glass gallon jar that they came in, and this was the quickest way to get through them.  The sun tea that I made in the glass jar turned out great.  The dill pickles will have to be rehydrated to be appetizing to anyone beyond the biggest salt lovers in the world.  I don’t mind salt, but even the smallest of chips packed a huge salt punch that sent me straight for my water glass when I tried them straight from the freeze dryer.

Dad really likes them when they are layered onto his ham and cheese sandwiches. The moisture from the sandwich rehydrates them enough to be really enjoyable, apparently.

I think if I try something like this again, I’ll try bread and butter pickles instead.  Our whole family prefers they’re flavour.

9.      Artichoke hearts

For some reason, we had a HUGE can of these on the shelf.  We only have one recipe that calls for artichoke hearts (Dad’s Hawaiian Crab Dip – yummy!) and it doesn’t call for such a large amount.  So, we strained the hearts and laid them on parchment paper-lined trays.  They dried to virtually nothing; it was hard to keep them from disintegrating into powder as we packed them into pint jars and mylar bags for various periods of storage.  Now we have enough stored away for Dad’s crab dip for years to come.

Artichoke hearts portioned out into a useable serving.

And speaking of huge cans, I got tomato paste in a huge can, too.  I’ve had other things to freeze dry, first, and what’s nice about the cans is that the food within them can store on the shelf for quite a long time anyway, so there’s no urgency with getting it processed.  Instead, I can wait until the next time we need it for a recipe, use what we need and then simply dry the rest with no waste.  And tomato paste is so versatile.  We’ll be able to powder it for soups, or add it to spaghetti or chili or any other recipes for a concentrated tomato hit.

10. Broccoli

Another sale item at the grocery store recently was fresh broccoli.  Just 88 cents a head.  We bought a bunch and cut it down into small florets to process.  It will be perfect for cream of broccoli soup this winter.

11. Scrambled Eggs

A few weeks ago, we received a case of “Eggwiches,”  individually wrapped eggs, sausage and cheese that can be microwaved and put on bread for a great breakfast meal.  I was able to separate out the eggs from the sausages and freeze dried the eggs.  I probably could have freeze dried the sausages and cheese, too, but instead, I vacuum sealed and froze those.  It takes up a lot less freezer space than the boxes of sandwiches and there’s less chance they’ll go to waste since they wouldn’t all fit in our freezer.

12. Apples

I think this is my favourite freeze dried food so far.  We have an apple peeler/corer/spiraliser that makes quick work of a bag of apples.  And, with a recent sale, I got 3 pounds of Fuji apples for $1.  It’s sales like that that make the freeze dryer truly earn its keep.

Apples, bananas and strawberries, oh my!

13. Bananas

Did you know that because of monoculture, the Cavendish variety of banana that we know and love in our supermarkets these days is under threat from a fungus?  Apparently it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with demand because of crop loss.  So, I’m hedging my bets and buy a bunch of bananas every week and go ahead and get them into the freeze dryer for long-term storage.  In years to come, I’ll still be able to enjoy the bananas that I’m used to.

14. Strawberries

Oh, oh, my second or third favourite freeze dried food.  Quick to process, just half or quarter the fruits, take the top off and lay on the parchment-lined tray.  I haven’t yet gotten any put into mylar bags for long-term storage, they’re just too good and get eaten pretty quickly after coming out of the freeze dryer.

15. Mangoes

Marvellous mangoes

I’m not a big mango fan, but when they’re on sale for 29 cents each, you can’t not at least try them freeze dried.  This was my second batch of food, after the initial white bread batch, and unfortunately, I probably should have extended the dry time.  They were still a bit moist in the middle, so I treated them more like dehydrated mango instead and just put them in an air tight Tupperware so we’d eat them straight away.  They’re good, but the pulp has a tendency to get stuck in my teeth, even when they’ve been freeze dried, so not as enjoyable as apples and bananas.  Phil liked them well enough, so he’ll have lots to eat this summer.

16. Grapes

Chalk these up as a learning experience.  The first time Dad and I tried these, we used a beeswax uncapper tool to pierce lots of holes in the grapes, thinking that would be enough surface area to release the water.  It wasn’t.  They were more like dehydrated with some of the centres still a bit gummy.  They taste great, and are excellent added to wine to do their rehydrating.  A boozy sweet treat at the end of the glass.

Here’s a bowl-full of freeze dried grapes

The second time we tried grapes, we cut each grape in half and laid it cut side up on the tray.  These did slightly better, but again, did not fully dry out, compared to the bananas and blueberries that were also in the batch.

We’ve decided that the natural sugar content of grapes is just too high to properly freeze dry.  They aren’t ruined by any means, but they can’t be stored long-term, and that’s what freeze drying, for us, is all about.

17. Pineapple

I had a few of these left over when I packaged up my first batch of pineapple a week or so ago and really enjoyed popping a few freeze dried fruits into a glass of strawberry wine that we had after dinner.

What a great idea for summer sangria, or Pimms… freeze dried fruit, rather than fresh fruit.  I can’t wait to try it in a few weeks!  If I liked Bloody Marys, I could probably do the same thing with the veg used in those.  Hmm, freeze dried cocktails?  Yum.

18. Rhubarb

I didn’t blanche my rhubarb, I just chopped it into pieces and put it into the freeze dryer.  I saw someone suggest they be left overnight in a sugar water solution before freeze drying and if I get a second batch, I’ll definitely try that.  I put my first batch into mylar bags.  But there were a few left over that I decided to try to rehydrate right away to use with some fresh strawberries for a strawberry shortcake dessert. 

Dad said it was good, but I had to pick out all the rhubarb from mine because, despite it sitting with the strawberries in a bit of vodka and honey overnight, it was still way too tart for my liking.

19. Yogurt

The meringue-like texture of a yogurt dollop.

This is my new favourite way to eat yogurt.  Freeze dried yogurt is the texture of baked meringue.  Light with a slight chewiness as the moisture from your mouth hits the yogurt dollop.

We were gifted with an entire case of individual cup strawberry yogurts.  So, we dolloped teaspoonfuls of yogurt onto the parchment-lined freeze dryer trays.  We got about 5 or 6 spoonfuls from each yogurt pot.  I think I did at least 12 trays of strawberry yogurt.  I’ve put loads into Tupperware for short-term enjoyment, and loads into mylar bags for the future.

The vanilla yogurt had been sitting unopened in the fridge for a few weeks, but it was still perfectly good and, same as the strawberry, made great dollops.  It’s like tasty vanilla candy, that’s actually healthy.

With the vanilla yogurt, we also tried pre-freezing portions in larger silicone ice cube and muffin trays.  Three teaspoons per portion.  Unfortunately, they took a really long time to dry out.  Even after a long extended drying time, the moisture meter was still reading 1 or 2% moisture.  It was quite a humid day when I packaged them, so I expect that I’ll be trying to use them a lot more quickly than the 25 years that the food is supposed to last.

20. Blueberries

Unlike the grapes, these dried out just fine when cut in half with the cut side up. And, Dad and I were both surprised to find that the inside of the blueberries was actually white, rather than the deep purple colour usually associated with them. They were perfectly sweet and ripe all the same and they are delicious freeze dried. One pint was the perfect amount for a single freeze dryer tray.

What about you?

Are you a freeze dryer owner?  What were your first freeze dried foods?  Any surprises or fresh ideas from my list above?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please share through the form below, or tag us @parkerlings, on your favourite social media.